Coach says Missouri needs win as badly as Kentucky

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 21, 2013 

Missouri Coach Frank Haith does not accept the widely held view that Saturday's game carries more post-season meaning for Kentucky.

"Well, I think we need the same thing, too," Haith said on a teleconference Thursday. " ... We're all trying to improve ourselves, our résumé. I don't look at it (as) do we have enough or don't have enough. We've got to continue to fight like we're not in either."

One of the holes in Missouri's résumé is its road record. The Tigers have lost five of six road games in Southeastern Conference play. The lone victory came at last-place Mississippi State.

"We need a great quality road win, and we haven't had that yet," Haith said. "So it's important for us to continue to establish ourselves to have our name called out on that (Selection) Sunday."

College basketball analyst Dick Vitale, who will work the Kentucky-Missouri game for ESPN, wrote off Haith's comments as the obligatory response from a coach wanting to stoke his team's fire. As Vitale saw it, Kentucky finds itself much more at a crossroads.

"Here is their opportunity for a quality win," Vitale said of the Cats. " ... Missouri gives them a chance to get a substantial win, and they must take advantage of it."

Kentucky (18-8 overall, 9-4 SEC) is at home and playing a team that's struggled on the road. UK is also coming off a much-needed victory, albeit over a rebuilding Vanderbilt.

For Vitale, this all adds up to higher stakes for Kentucky.

"It's much bigger for Kentucky," he said. "Anybody in basketball you'd ask (would say that)."

Although Missouri has not won much on the road, the Tigers have fared better of late. The Tigers' last three road losses were one-possession games at the end: 73-70 at LSU, 70-68 at Texas A&M and 73-71 at Arkansas.

"I've felt good about our team getting better and better and better," Haith said.

In its last game, Missouri beat the SEC's only ranked team, No. 5 Florida, 63-60.

"You're hopeful that you can carry it over," Haith said of the possible momentum created by that game.

Like Kentucky, Missouri has had to deal with injury, adversity and a largely new roster. Forward Laurence Bowers missed five games because of a strained knee ligament. He scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against Florida.

Missouri's only returning player of consequence from last season is point guard Phil Pressey.

"Injuries have kind of held up our cohesiveness," Haith said. "Now that we have everybody back, I feel good about where we're headed."

Of course, Kentucky lost its best player last week when Nerlens Noel tore an anterior cruciate ligament. The Cats lost 88-58 at Tennessee Saturday before beating Vandy 74-70 on Wednesday.

Kentucky looked "more relaxed (and) more comfortable" against Vandy, Haith said. "I was impressed with how they went after it. They competed.

"We know we're going to get Kentucky's very best, and, hopefully, we'll be able to figure out how to compete."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227 Twitter: @JerryTipton Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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