"When we start falling into standings, need wins and must-wins, that means we're thinking about things we can't control," coach Quin Snyder said. Our focus can't be on what we can control."
But the Tigers aren't saying it's going to be easy, especially after Wednesday's 82-70 win against Iowa State put them in a tie for fourth in the Big 12 and gave them three wins in a row for the first time since the first three games of the season, with a game at last-place Baylor on Saturday.
"If you stay away from the newspaper, the television and the radio, it's not that hard," Snyder said. "You can find the what-if game wherever you go. I'm not going to play it, and I'm going to try like heck to not let my team play it."
Missouri (12-10, 6-5 Big 12) has clearly played its best basketball of the season in the past three games, all at the Hearnes Center. The Tigers have won those games by more than 19 points a game, and they made it pretty clear Wednesday night what they've focused on.
"We're not worried about the standings," senior forward Travon Bryant said. "We need to dedicated ourselves to defending and rebounding, and everything will fall into place."
Of course, some good shooting never hurts. The Tigers shot 47.3 percent Wednesday night, they made 21-of-25 free throws, and four Tigers scored in the double figures. Jimmy McKinney, whose critics had been piling up over the past few months, led Missouri with 21 points. It was his first 20-point game since he scored 21 in the season opener.
"I really thought he was going to have a good night with the way he started," Snyder said. "When he's attacking and playing instinctively, he's a different guy."
The Tigers didn't win Wednesday without a fight from Iowa State, though. After Missouri built several 17-point leads, the Cyclones used a 10-0 run in the second half to close the lead to 59-55. Later in the half, Josh Kroenke, in his first game after returning from a severe cut in his leg, made an off-balance 3-pointer to extend the lead to 71-62.
"The biggest play of the game was Josh's 3," said Jason Conley, who scored 14 points. "That was huge shot. He only took one shot and he made it. That was the turning point of the game."
From there, Missouri made all of its free throws and held the Cyclones off to keep its lead.
"We did a good job of making plays when we needed to," Snyder said.
Missouri jumped on the Cyclones in the first 10 minutes, building a 21-13 lead, but Iowa State kept plugging into the Tigers' lead. With 1:49 left in the half, McKinney opened the lead by scoring on a layup while falling to the ground on a foul. After the free throw, Missouri led 39-30 and went into the half 43-31.
"I just threw it up, and it happened to go in," McKinney said. "I guess it was my day."