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Mizzou, Dennis Gates ready to play Utah State in Sacramento

Missouri Florida Basketball
Posted at 5:47 PM, Mar 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-15 18:47:02-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It has been a tremendous season for head coach Dennis Gates and Mizzou men's basketball, a program that was in turmoil and a period of transition a year ago.

Now, in its first year under the former Cleveland State head coach, the program has made its way back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2021.

Players cite the off the court relationship with Gates as a reason for that success.

“He wants to be at our weddings,” said Mizzou guard Tre Gomillion, who's a game-time decision for the Thursday game. “He cares much about his players, and more than just the basketball player.”

Now, the Tigers face the Utah State Aggies in Sacramento, California, on Thursday.

Currently, the Utah State Aggies is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country. The program ranks 22nd in three-point field goals made and fifth in three-point field goal percentage, led by junior guard Steven Ashworth, with a three-point percentage of 44.3%.

The Tigers, however, are not fazed by Utah State’s shooting skills, with players believing they have what it takes to stop it.

“They have an offensive system similar to Alabama,” Gomillion said. “They want to space the floor with shooters. They want to make you gamble with help and get fast in transition. It’s nothing we have not seen before. It’s a little bit of what we do.”

A key factor in the game might be the difference in time zones for the Tigers. While the game is slated to begin at 12:40 p.m. Central Standard Time, over in California, tip-off time will be at 10:40 a.m.

However, the time adjustment is something Mizzou players say they are prepared for, citing Gates and the coaching staff for helping them get ready for it.

“Playing (in the Amateur Athletic Union) and coming up, sometimes you have 8 a.m. games, then you might have a back to back,” said star Mizzou forward Kobe Brown. “We haven’t done it in a while, but it's nothing we haven’t done before.”

For Gates, this tournament marks his return to California, where he played his collegiate hoops career for the Golden Bears at the University of California, Berkeley. California was also a stop in Gates' early coaching career, where he was an assistant coach for his alma mater from 2005 to 2007.

Gates told reporters Wednesday it was a great experience to return to his California roots.

“Being able to graduate undergrad in three years, being able to start my master degree, and being able to be named student athlete of the year, was all essential things for me,” Gates said. “I’ve developed some unbelievable bonds, friendships, but also some great memories during my time at Cal-Berkeley.”

However, Gates knows he still has a job to do, and that is to get the Tigers their first NCAA Tournament win since 2010.

Despite Gate's several NCAA Tournament appearances as a coach, he says he still feels the anxiety of coaching in the tournament.

To help him prepare for the tournament, Gates reached out to some past friends many Mizzou fans will recognize, such as Norm Stewart, Mike Anderson, and former Tigers coach and now Atlanta Hawks head coach Quin Snyder.

“Norm Stewart is a shoulder and a friendship that I have been enlightened by,” Gates said Wednesday. “Quin (Snyder) has been a great resource for me. I’ve had several conversations with him, even during that transition of him being out of coaching and then getting back in the NBA. He’s set aside time for me and I appreciate that.”

The Tigers will play Thursday against the Aggies in Sacramento, California, at 12:40 p.m. CST on TNT.