Young players buy into Anderson’s defensive strategy

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Missouri head coach Mike Anderson’s teams are known for playing the fastest 40 minutes in basketball.

His hard-nosed, in-your-face philosophy has followed Anderson wherever he’s gone — from Arkansas down to Alabama and back up to Missouri. Anderson’s squads, stocked with versatile and rangy athletes year after year, always seem to be moving a step quicker than the opposition.

Every coach knows what to expect when preparing for an Anderson-coached team: full-court pressure from start to finish.

But this year’s Tigers outfit has been equally effective on the offensive end.

Missouri is sixth in the nation in both points per game (85) and assists per game (18). But the success of the offense isn’t stopping Anderson from continuing to instill a tough, defensive mindset. He says the Tigers are at their best when they are focused defensively.

“Our defense has picked up, earlier in the year we were just trying to outscore people,” Anderson said. “I’ve been on these guys to play athletic. It’s amazing sometimes how that can be contagious.”

Anderson learned from the best while assisting Nolan Richardson at Arkansas in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s. Anderson has taken Richardson’s “40 minutes of hell” philosophy and crafted his own with great success.

During his time at Alabama-Birmingham, Anderson’s pesky defenders propelled the Blazers to the NCAA tournament for three straight years. And he hasn’t dropped off since moving to Missouri, winning more games in his first four years than any coach in school history.

His Tigers are eager to return to Big 12 Championship form after winning the conference and reaching the Elite Eight in 2009. No. 11 Missouri might just get the chance, thanks to key contributions from a pair of rookies.
“We’ve got more guys ready to play now than we had earlier in the year,” Anderson said.

Freshman point guard Phil Pressey returned from a broken hand in time for the Tigers’ Big 12 opener and has breathed life to their backcourt. Pressey, who played high school ball in Dallas, has shown flashes of greatness this season, finding open teammates for easy buckets — part of the reason Missouri is second in the conference in assists.

“He has a great gift for making other people look pretty good,” Anderson said.

But while the broken hand limited his play early on — he missed four games — Pressey is finding a groove in conference play.

“Not many guys can do the things he’s doing at this level after coming off of an injury,” Anderson said.

But the neophyte hasn’t made all the adjustments needed to be an elite college player, at least not yet. He’ll get an opportunity to showcase his talent against Texas freshman point guard Cory Joseph when the two ranked teams collide Saturday.

While Pressey has brought depth to the guard position, junior college transfer Ricardo Ratliffe has brought a physical presence to Missouri’s frontcourt. The Tigers’ leading rebounder, Ratliffe is second on the team with 1.7 blocks per game.

“He was the big dog at Central Florida and he came in with great accolades but this is a new level here,” Anderson said. “Early on he was trying to fit in, but that adjustment period is over for him.”

If Anderson can get his team to play his type of defense, it could be a long weekend for Texas fans.