As the season enters February, every coach and player knows that this is make-or-break time for teams across the country. The level of play and intensity will only be raised in the coming games, meaning that Missouri needs to be playing its best basketball during this time.
Dennis Gates and graduate guard D’Moi Hodge met with the media on Tuesday to discuss the state of the team.
Breaking out of the slump
It’s been well-documented that during Missouri’s recent rough stretch (TAMU, UF, Arky, Bama) D’Moi Hodge was a key reason why the team was struggling. After being a marksman for much of the season, he failed to score more than ten points and shot 20% or lower from behind the arc in four straight games.
Then, he rebounded to score 24 against Ole Miss and 17 against Iowa State. Hodge says the keys to working out of a slump like that are mainly mental.
“It’s more about if I have the confidence to keep shooting,” Hodge said. “I’m not going to fall off and not take the same shots or risks that I usually do.”
And when Hodge is shooting well, it appears that the rest of the team does. Kobe Brown, Isiaih Mosley, Noah Carter and plenty of others have paired up with Hodge in getting hot over stretches of games.
“If Noah Carter hits two threes, then I know they’re going to be locked in on him,” Hodge said. “Then, it might be easier for me to take my time and get some open shots. I would say it’s (good shooting) definitely contagious.”
At the end of the day, Hodge is a true gunslinger, and he has the mindset to go along with it. Asked about what a good shot looks like to him, he had a simple answer.
“If I can get it (the shot) off,” Hodge said.
Eyes on the prize
Dennis Gates set a standard for this program before the season started, regardless of what the outside noise and media predicted. So far, they’re on the right track to reach that standard.
“We first started talking about April 1 and April 3 right after the press conference where I was introduced as head coach,” Gates said. “My dreams and aspirations will not ever change.”
Of course, the dates he refers to are when the Final Four would be taking place. While the team has a long ways to go to get there, they have made great strides towards that goal.
“I think it’s important for us to stay in the short term and focus on our goals,” Gates said. “The most important opponent is ourselves; I’ve said it all along.”
The AP polls, NET rankings and bracketology predictions are all well-and-good, but Gates cares for none of them. For now, he still has his eye on one prize.
“The only ranking that matters is the one after One Shining Moment plays on national television,” Gates said.
Packing the stands
Dennis Gates consistently asks reporters a simple question during his press conferences: Before the season, how many sellouts would you have thought we’d have this season?
He demands we answer truthfully, and we do. Zero. Now, there are only three homes games remaining on the schedule that are not sold out, with the TAMU and Ole Miss games just being announced as sell-outs.
“Last game we announced a sell-out during a sell-out,” Gates said. “You have to understand the magnitude of that, to say that we’ve had every Saturday game sold out in our SEC season.”
The community of Columbia and Mizzou fans in general have rallied around Gates’ team and brand of basketball. It helps when you have a high-flying team to watch, but Gates also thanks the entire athletic department for their commitment to promoting and building the basketball brand at Missouri.
“We have people behind the scenes in every department, not just men’s basketball,” Gates said. “We have a great department that will continue to grow, but it takes a village.”
The only remaining games that are not sold out are LSU, South Carolina and Mississippi State, all weekday contests.