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Being Lowest Seed OK With Missouri

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) _ Being the lowest seed still standing in the NCAA tournament doesn't mean much to Missouri.

No. 12 in the West Regional is kind of like being No. 2 in the nation in December for the Tigers, who play No. 8 UCLA on Thursday night with a spot in the final eight on the line.

Coach Quin Snyder knew Missouri (21-11) didn't deserve the high ranking early in the season, frequently mentioning the youth of his team.

Now, he believes if the team thinks it's a true No. 12 seed, they'll play that way. And he knows the Tigers can be a lot better than that.

``It's allowing someone else to define what we're doing, and there's enough of that,'' Snyder said. ``Early on, we liked what we heard and we were too quick to believe it.

``What's relevant is what you're doing on the court, and let that be your focus.''

Players who got caught up in the early hype now know a lot better.

``The numbers don't mean nothing,'' point guard Wesley Stokes said. ``You can erase the numbers from the side of each team's name and the same thing can happen, or vice versa.

``The numbers are just for the people watching the game and for the media. For the players, it's in their hearts.''

Snyder, under fire in the middle of the season as the Tigers stumbled after a 9-0 start, has led Missouri to one more NCAA victory this year that the school produced in the last five years under Norm Stewart. He said he's seen plenty of heart recently from his players, who've dominated No. 4 seed Miami and No. 5 Ohio State, beating the pair by a combined 29 points.

Snyder said players' willingness to adjust their roles has been instrumental in Missouri's surge.

The biggest was Clarence Gilbert's move to point guard in the middle of his senior season. Kareem Rush has finally made the adjustment to increased defensive attention with better ball distribution. Sophomore Travon Bryant began playing like a McDonald's All-American.

``I'm still working on it, but I'm kind of seeing the fruits of my labor right now,'' Bryant said. ``I'm just playing harder and harder every day and getting better and better.''

Snyder said the process has been like putting a puzzle together.

``We had a lot of pieces at certain points that didn't really fit together, and because of the external stuff early on, we weren't willing individually to modify the shape of those pieces,'' Snyder said. ``But through the season, I think you've been able to see our guys do that.

``They've changed who they are and grown in some cases and taken lesser roles in some cases, and the result is a puzzle that fits together into a pretty good picture.''

Snyder doesn't think there's a defining moment for the Tigers' turnaround. An 18-point December loss to Iowa at home served as a wakeup call, and so did a loss at Iowa State, which convinced Snyder to move Gilbert to point guard ahead of Stokes.

``It also gave Clarence a voice,'' Snyder said. ``It gave him a megaphone.''

Snyder, under fire during Missouri's stumbling midsection of the season, said he's also grown.

``It's been a popular topic,'' he said. ``I'm the same guy who coached this team when they were ranked No. 2 and I'm the same guy who coached it last year against Coach K.

``But I told my staff that I think we've done a better job this year given what we've had to go through.''

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