POPLAR BLUFF -- The Sikeston Bulldogs have had a week to ponder what went wrong in last Saturday's late-game collapse to Portageville.
The team has spent most of the week working on closing out games and being familiar with late-game situations.
Tomorrow night the team will travel to Poplar Bluff to see if that practice has paid off as the Bulldogs take on the Mules in a SEMO Conference battle with junior varsity action tipping off at 6 p.m.
Sikeston (10-8, 2-2 SEMO) enters the game having lost three of four, including the aforementioned Portageville game in which the Bulldogs led by 16 points in the fourth quarter, only to fall by one in the final seconds.
While the trend seems to be ongoing, Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield is confident that his team will overcome it.
"I think it will all even out," said Holifield. "Our kids just need to get into a situation like we were in Saturday when we were playing well and were ahead, but we need to just play better down the stretch and finish some of these games better."
Sikeston will be taking on a Poplar Bluff team that is rebuilding in the wake of the graduation of superstars Tyler and Ben Hansbrough.
Former Charleston High School star Lamont Frazier is in his first year as head coach for the Mules. While the team has had some struggles, he is hoping they are starting to turn the corner after an impressive road victory against New Madrid County Central on Tuesday, 58-39.
"There's not a lot you can do this time of the year other than go out and play," said Frazier, whose team is now 6-12 and 2-2 in league play. "It has nothing to do with X's and O's. It has to do with mental execution. (NMCC was) the beginning of the stronger Southeast Missouri teams, in terms of strength, size and quickness, because they only get stronger and more physical here for the next couple weeks. (Sikeston is) a good team. They're going to be tough, they're going to be physical. We've got to come out and be solid from the start.
"We have a tendency sometimes to lose focus. Teams can play their worst basketball, but if we lose our focus we're in trouble. We have to go into that game as focused as possible."
Frazier said he is well aware of what Sikeston has been doing lately, but the fact that the Bulldogs have lost some close games doesn't change his opinion of them.
"Whether they're struggling or whether they're not struggling, they're a good basketball team," said Frazier of Sikeston. "I know that (sophomore forward Michael) Porter is the center of that team. It's something that we're going to have to focus in on and we're going to have to see what we can do in the next couple days to prepare ourselves for such a player."
The Mules feature a young lineup with numerous sophomores and freshmen receiving playing time.
The Bulldogs will be returning to a gym that they've had success in the past, at least in the pre-Hansbrough era.
From 1994-2001, Sikeston won eight straight games at Poplar Bluff's Peters Gymnasium, even capturing a pair of Class 4A district championships in '94 and '99 on the floor.
But the Tyler Hansbrough-led Mules ended the Bulldog streak in 2003, and then beat the Bulldogs again in 2005.
Holifield has a record of 6-7 against Poplar Bluff since he has been the head coach at Sikeston with four of those losses coming against Tyler Hansbrough teams.
"It's always a tough place to play," said Holifield of Peters Gymnasium. "I hope to think we're starting to get healthy. Hopefully we can go over there and play well. We need to get some confidence and some momentum going."
Sikeston forward Ray Rodgers is still battling a broken hand.
The senior has struggled since returning and is averaging just 7.0 points per game in three games back after averaging 13 ppg prior to the injury.
Bulldog senior Julian Beard is also battling a foot injury, but he is expected to play tomorrow.
Beard, a second-team all-state player a year ago, is averaging a career-high 17 points per game.