SACRAMENTO, Calif. — It didn’t seem natural to let Utah State get to the edge. But that’s exactly what the head coach Denis Gates and his staff wanted Mizzou players to do it.
The Aggies were one of the hottest shooting teams in the NCAA Tournament, connecting on 38.5% of their 3, which ranked 11th in the nation. To slow them down in Thursday’s first-round game in the NCAA Tournament, Gates wanted his players to deny as many open looks along the perimeter as possible.
He had his team faceguard USU junior point guard Steven Ashworth, who averaged 7.2 attempts from beyond the arc per game and knocked them down at a clip of 44.3%. He also wanted his players to avoid sagging in defense, leaving the Tigers with limited help from the weak side if someone was dribbled down or isolated on the block.
The Aggies missed all of their first 11 triples in the first half, with Ashworth going 0-4 from deep. The team went 13-17 on 2 points, however, with all but five of Utah State’s 31 first-half points coming in the paint.
“You have to understand that at that point, that’s not how they want to score, that’s not how they want the whole game to go,” Gates said. “Our guys, let’s congratulate them, it’s hard to give up lay-ups or stuff, but they stayed disciplined and they didn’t rotate too much, which is one of the game plans we have. seen being used throughout their conference I got to watch every game sometimes you don’t want to inundate your guys with every game in a season that a team has played but you have to get them to understand these main points We couldn’t stress this enough They watched the movie themselves and they got to see it.
Missouri stuck to the plan, even when the Aggies started connecting on a few other treys. USU missed their first two attempts from the outside to start the second half, but made their next two, tying the game at 39-39.
But the team only went 2-9 from afar for the rest of the game. The Tigers also slowed the Aggies better on the inside, keeping them 11-17 on 2 points. USU finished the game shooting just 16.7% from the 3-point line. Ashworth was 2-10. The stiff defense helped Mizzou retreat into the stretch, taking the win 76-65.
“Our approach was to put pressure on the whole court,” the senior guard said. D’Me Hodge, who made a record four interceptions. “We know what they wanted. They wanted jump shots. We tried to force them to the basket to make them take 2s, to score the big man. We offered it to shooters… make them take hard 3s, force them to make bad shots. It helped us in the long run.
The No. 7-seeded Tigers will look to continue their focus on defense in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when they face No. 15 seed Princeton on Saturday.
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