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The last time Missouri lost this badly, Norm Stewart went Full Norm

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in January 1998, Missouri lost by 55 points at Kansas State, then returned home and beat Texas by 22 points two days later. Norm Stewart started a walk-on and lit a proverbial fire under proverbial asses.

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MUTIGERS.COM: Tigers Fall at No. 1 Kentucky, 86-37
The Trib: No. 1 Kentucky makes a statement with rout of Missouri
Post-Dispatch: Tigers run into Kentucky "buzz saw"
PowerMizzou: Tigers crushed by UK
PowerMizzou: POST-GAME HOOPS THOUGHTS
The Missourian: Takeaways from No. 1 Kentucky's thrashing of Missouri basketball
Fox Sports MW: Trip to No. 1 Kentucky results in Mizzou's worst loss since '98

Believe it or not, this is actually kind of a happy post. Mind you, nothing about Tuesday night's trip to Lexington was particularly happy, but the Fox Sports headline above triggered a pretty fun memory. No, seriously! It's a fun memory!

The outcome was even more embarrassing than you might have expected: 86-37, Wildcats. It was Missouri's worst loss since a 55-point beatdown at Kansas State in 1998.

My Mizzou undergraduate experience began in the 1997-98 school year, and one of my favorite and least-favorite games from that time happened two days apart.

On January 3, 1998, Missouri lost to Kansas State by an incredible score of 111-56.

On January 5, 1998, Missouri beat Texas by a perhaps even more incredible score of 91-69.

The loss to Kansas State was every trip to Bramlage distilled into 40 minutes of incredible hell. KSU started making bank-shot 3-pointers as the shot clock expired, and Missouri almost literally forgot how to play basketball. That Missouri team was quite a bit better than this one, and that KSU team was four thousand times worse than this year's Kentucky team. But a Missouri team that had just beaten Illinois and No. 20 Maryland, and would go on to beat No. 3 Kansas and No. 10 Iowa in the same week*, managed to go to Manhattan and lose by 55 points. 55!

* The day after beating Iowa in overtime at Hearnes, Mizzou lost a pretty competitive game at Wake Forest. The DAY AFTER. And this was in late-January, well into conference play. They played Iowa on Saturday, Wake on Sunday, then played two more conference games on Wednesday and the following Saturday. Norm Stewart and the associate athletic director in charge of scheduling were absolute masochists sometimes.

From start to finish, 1997-98 was odd. This was the peak of the "unstoppable at Hearnes, incapable away from Hearnes" period, and nothing encapsulated that more than the first two games of Big 12 play.

After everything had completely fallen apart in Manhattan, Norm Stewart decided his team needed to be sent a message. So he tossed walk-on Mark Wampler into the starting lineup and watched Mizzou force 11 turnovers, shoot over 60%, and race to a 25-point halftime lead against a Texas team that had been ranked in the top 25 earlier in the season.

Missouri coach Norm Stewart took care of the attitude adjustment, sending a message to his veterans by starting sophomore walk-on guard Mark Wampler.

``When you lose by as many points as we did, you've got all the latitude you want,'' Stewart said. ``I could have started a janitor and nobody could have complained.''

The message came through loud and clear as Missouri (8-5, 1-1 Big 12) showed a true desire to win. The Tigers were intense on defense from the opening tip, forcing the Longhorns into 11 first-half turnovers, and discovered rhythm in their offense, shooting 60.7 percent from the floor and 62.5 percent from 3-point range.

This game drove late Kent Heitholt's to a place somewhere between insanity and poetry.

This was the same Missouri team that had produced the most dismal basketball performance in school history -- a 111-56 loss to Kansas State on Saturday afternoon. In 92 years of basketball at Missouri, through high-top black sneakers, T-shirts with numbers, lumpy knee pads, wire baskets and coaches named Isadore and Chester, no MU team had ever been beaten as badly as the Tigers were whipped at Kansas State.

Which makes it only natural to assume that 48 hours later, Missouri would return home and take the court on national TV and blow away Texas, a banged-up team that was once considered part of the Top 25.

You figure it out.

This was one of the most Norm moments of Norm Stewart's career. He saw a listless, lifeless team getting mopped up on the Bramlage Coliseum floor, and he lit a proverbial fire under proverbial asses.

Kim Anderson faces a different challenge. Missouri lost by 49 points on Tuesday in Lexington, and the problem wasn't a lack of fire or an unconscious opponent hitting b.s. H-O-R-S-E shots from stupid angles all night. The problem was that the Tigers were completely overmatched physically and were too young and inexperienced to figure out how to cope. Kentucky is the No. 1 team in the country, and it was playing like it had a point to prove, but Mizzou's young leadership was trying to lead and couldn't. Johnathan Williams III tried to carry the team on his back and fell over, shooting 1-for-13. Keith Shamburger, Wes Clark, and Tramaine Isabell shot 5-for-24 and didn't even play that badly.

Mizzou played with energy and hope and got slaughtered. As fun as it would be to watch Kim Anderson start walk-on Hayden Barnard against Tennessee this Saturday, and as fun as it would be to watch Mizzou take a 25-point halftime lead on the Vols, this situation isn't that situation. The messages Kim Anderson has to send following this dreadful trip is one of togetherness and hope, not "What the hell are you doing??"

The goal for this season, from start to finish, is to keep working, keep improving, and maintain chemistry. The work paid off with a win over LSU last week, but in the last five days Mizzou has dropped a winnable game at Auburn, then suffered its worst loss since these Mizzou freshmen were toddlers.

With more rough challenges on the near horizon -- Tennessee on Saturday, a trip to Texas A&M next Wednesday, then home games against Arkansas and (are you kidding me???) Kentucky again -- the next two to three weeks might represent the biggest challenge of Kim Anderson's entire head coaching career. He maneuvered Mizzou past a loss to UMKC and frustrating performances against Purdue, Oklahoma, and Xavier (and Elon and SEMO for that matter) and put an energetic, improved team on the court in late-December and early-January. But a 49-point loss, followed by a rough stretch of follow-up games, could put Mizzou into a full-fledged crisis of confidence. Let's see what Anderson does to try to avoid that ... if there's anything that actually could be done to avoid it.