Missouri Trying To Put Troubles Behind

FAYETTEVILLE -- The only thing worse than Missouri's off-court problems this year has been the Tigers' on-court ones.

Missouri hasn't been making the right kind of headlines for the last two seasons as an NCAA investigation swirled around sixth-year coach Quin Snyder's program and culminated Nov. 4 in a three-year sentence of probation with several scholarship and recruiting restrictions.

The Tigers' new $75 million, 15-000-seat arena -- where Arkansas (5-1) will play a Tuesday 7:05 p.m. game on the Arkansas Razorback Sports Network -- was originally named for Paige Laurie, the 22-year-old daughter of an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune.

Naming the new building for someone who never attended the school caused an uproar over the summer among fans and an embarrassment in late November when Laurie's freshman roommate alleged on ABC's "20/20" she was paid more than $20,000 by Laurie to help her cheat through nearly four years of college at Southern Cal.

The Paige Sports Arena was renamed Mizzou Arena on Nov. 26 -- after Laurie's billionaire parents Bill and Nancy Laurie gave up the naming rights from their $25 million donation -- though as of last Sunday's game against Murray State the floor still had the exposed heiress' name on the floor.

Snyder replaced two assistant coaches over the summer and after the Tigers' 16-14 season and loss to Michigan in the NIT first round, another subpar campaign could mean changing more than the four-page section devoted to Paige Sports Arena in Missouri's media guide.

As if a team on probation for NCAA rules violations playing in an arena named for someone who cheated her way through college wasn't enough, the team is 4-3 with consecutive losses to Davidson (at home) and to Creighton and Houston in Kansas City during the Guardian's Classic.

The Tigers have also struggled to beat teams like Brown (68-60), Murray State (59-55) and most recently Oakland (70-61) on Saturday.

Ricky Paulding (15.1 points per game), Arthur Johnson (16.4 ppg, 7.5 rebounds per game) and Trevor Bryant (10.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) have departed, leaving senior Jason Conley, junior Jimmy McKinney and sophomores Linas Kleiza and Gardner to fill the shoes.

Kleiza, a 6-8 forward from Lithuania who averaged 11.1 points and 8.4 rebounds in 16 games before dislocating his shoulder last season, is leading the team in both categories so far (14.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg).

Gardner and Conley are averaging 12.6 and 12.4 points, respectively, and McKinney 8.1. Missouri is shooting 39.7 percent from the field and allowing its opponents to hit 43.5.

The Tigers are hitting only 32.9 percent of their 3-pointers and have consistently lapsed into long periods of poor execution on both offense and defense.

The Tigers had poor spells again Saturday against winless Oakland, a team coming off an 18-point loss to Texas A&M.

Missouri went ahead 21-8 but allowed Oakland to come back and take a 29-27 lead. The Tigers got up 50-38 with 13 minutes to go in the second half, but Oakland cut it back to four twice.

Snyder yanked Gardner for playing poor defense in the first minute of the second half and talked after the game about his team driving him to remove some of his perfectly coifed ‘do.

"We still make some mistakes where you scratch your head or pull out your hair or whatever you do," Snyder said. "It's really kind of mind-boggling."

Missouri's struggles aren't too tough to understand with formerly complimentary players being called upon to take leading roles while breaking in freshman point guard Jason Horton, who has two more assists than his team-high 16 turnovers.

The Tigers have talented players who have lacked focus and played to the level of their competition.

For that reason, Arkansas coach Stan Heath won't put much stock in how Missouri has played so far.

"That's just one game," Heath said the day after Missouri lost against Creighton and before it lost against Houston that night. "Teams get hot in college basketball. Missouri has a good team with good players on their team. They'll bounce back.

"Upsets happen in college basketball."

Arkansas (5-1) had problems of its own getting up for a few lesser opponents before giving a superb defensive effort in its 72-60 loss against No. 5 Illinois on Saturday in North Little Rock.

The border-state Razorbacks will be the first big-name opponent to play in Mizzou Arena and Arkansas -- like Illinois -- will get the home team's best effort. After Arkansas, Missouri plays three of its next four against Indiana, Illinois and Gonzaga.

"I think the time is now for that," Conley told the Columbia Tribune on Saturday. "We can't wait any longer because if you look at our schedule, we have some pretty big games coming up."

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