Looking for a bounce-back performance, the Missouri Tigers (9-1) will travel to sunny Sunrise, Florida, to take on the University of Central Florida Knights (7-2) Saturday.
The matchup, deemed the AutoNation Orange Bowl Basketball Classic, will pit the No. 62 and No. 65-ranked KenPom teams against each other in what will be a thrilling way to start the collegiate basketball morning.
For the Tigers, this contest will serve about as close to a must-win as possible, when discussing their hopes for a bid in this year’s March Madness tournament.
The Knights, on the other hand, can make an emphatic difference in their tournament chances with an upset victory, especially considering they fall within the same conference as powerhouse Houston and will need Power Six victories.
With the table set for what will be a season-defining game, Mizzou head coach Dennis Gates, graduate guard Tre Gomillion and freshman forward Aidan Shaw met with the media earlier today to reveal their thoughts ahead of Saturday.
Gates focused on improvement
“I’m not talking about UCF right now,” Gates said. “This is more so about us and how we can continue to get better.”
Those were the parting words from Mizzou’s head coach, who spoke at length today about the focus on self-improvement following an uncharacteristic loss to No. 6 kansas. The challenges and weaknesses presented in that defeat are what Gates hopes to counteract in the games looming ahead.
“You don’t want a loss to to turn into two (or) three losses because of something that is not being corrected from a previous game,” Gates said.
A key to understanding these dynamics and turning negatives into a positives, according to Gates—film.
“Self discovery makes film sessions great,” Gates said. “Great awareness makes video and film great. Recognition, meaning guys taking accountability for what they can do better but also coaches doing the same, (is great).”
Film, although not talked about enough, is a true key to improvement, and it’s the first step in realizing how to improve in certain situations. Preparing for a meaningful game this weekend, Gates highlighted how important it was to get that first loss out of the way and analyze the mistakes.
“This is our first (loss) of the season, and I’m excited that we get to grow from it but also see how it allows us to get better,” Gates said.
Accountability is taking shape
On such a veteran team, as Mizzou showcases this season, leadership is of the plenty and that’s what has stood out to Gates following a deflating 28-point defeat to Kansas.
“I saw guys reconnected,” Gates said. “I didn’t see any kid pointing fingers. I saw guys wanting to take the brunt of the blame, which is a great atmosphere to have.”
Gates also touched on internal leadership, which continues to be a talking point throughout this season. From Tre Gomillion to forward Kobe Brown to Noah Carter, each veteran continues to showcase their distinct leadership styles.
“I’d say what’s really important is being able to not only make mistakes and learn from (the veterans), but also look up to them and see what they’ve done,” Shaw said. “I’m able to ask them any questions on and off the court.”
Those relationships, according to Shaw, have made the transition from high school to college much easier.
Gomillion said being a part of a veteran team plays a big role in figuring out how to respond after a loss. The bevy of leadership is something that the group believes will benefit when facing these tough times.
Aidan Shaw embracing an alter ego?
The newest, and most electric, face of Mizzou basketball is Shaw.
A freshman, notorious for his “hops” and “rim-shattering” dunks, Shaw continues to display the early signs of a star for the Tigers.
Perhaps the biggest key to his progress, alongside the veteran help, is his emotion.
Before each practice, Shaw lets out a thunderous a yell.
“I started yelling as soon as I touched the court this summer, just trying to develop a new chapter for myself,” Shaw said. “I see myself as kind of a nicer guy, and on the court, I can’t really do that.”
Shaw’s emphatic yell has become a welcomed sight on media days, showcasing a little bit of personality from an unknown freshman from just down I-70. To Shaw, however, that action is helping to develop an alter ego on the court.
“I started screaming every time I touch the court just to show I’m a foster basically,” Shaw said.
Asked if he believes the alter ego has developed throughout the season, Shaw replied:
“Yeah, definitely. I feel like it’s mostly game-by-game and developing a confident and killer mindset is something I’ve been working on.”
On the court, that attitude is displayed through his fiery personality, all-out effort and high-flying slams.
If you’re wondering if this alter ego has a name though, it doesn’t...yet.
“Not yet,” Shaw said. “I’ll try to think of something, (but) maybe the fans will think of something.”