ST. LOUIS (AP) - When Missouri guard Wes Clark dislocated his right elbow last February during a loss at South Carolina, it cut short what had the look of a breakout year.
He had been averaging a team-best 11.7 points in Southeastern Conference play. He wound up missing the rest of the 2014-15 season, in which the Tigers finished 9-23.
Coach Kim Anderson says he isn’t exactly sure how the injury is affecting Clark. But it certainly didn’t seem to hinder the junior’s career-high 21-point showing in a 68-63 loss to Illinois on Wednesday. Clark says the elbow is fine.
“It’s still got some nicks and knacks,” he said. “But, for the most part, it’s 100 percent.”
Anderson stresses the importance of Clark’s role.
“To have a really good basketball team, one component you have to have is a guy who can handle the basketball and make some plays,” Anderson said. “We need that guy. Tonight’s really encouraging to see that from Wes.”
Clark entered Wednesday’s game averaging 7.7 points while shooting 30 percent from 3-point range. Against Illinois, he shot 4 of 6 from 3-point range and scored 13 points in the second half, sparking a 17-2 run that helped Missouri cut a 20-point deficit to a one-possession game in the final minute.
“The coaches just were giving me confidence before the game,” Clark said. “Not necessarily hunting for shots, but just being aggressive at all times. If I see an opening, play comfortable. That’s what I did. I went out there, played hard and made some shots.”
Added Anderson: “I thought Wes took the game over for a while,” Anderson said. “He made plays not only for himself but for other people. We’re looking forward to seeing that when we get back from Christmas break.”
Clark topped his previous career high of 19, which came in loss last January to then top-ranked Kentucky.
“I think he’s a guy that loves big moments,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I’ve seen him play for a long time, even before he came to Missouri. He’s fearless. He was probably the guy that we talked about in terms of ‘hey, in this type of game, this guy’s dangerous.’”
Forward Russell Woods also had a career night against Illinois, scoring seven points and grabbing a career-best 10 rebounds in a game in which the Tigers outrebounded the Fighting Illini 43-32.
Woods said the Tigers rode Clark’s energy in the second half.
“I talk to Wes all the time and I tell him that he has to be our go-to guy,” Woods said. “Tonight, he brought it. I feel like that was a big boost. I was happy for him.”
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