COLUMBIA — After four straight second-half collapses dropped the Missouri women’s basketball team to 6-6, the team went into the consolation game of the Cavalier Classic on Dec. 29 against Delaware State with a complete lack of confidence.
They struggled through the first 35 minutes of the game, and then the Tigers finally turned the come-from-behind trick against an opponent, rather than vice versa.
Missouri scored the last 12 points of the game to nab a 55-50 win, and it became plausible that a late December nonconference win might have saved a season before it really had the chance to get started.
Junior guard Alyssa Hollins, the Tigers’ go-to leader on and off the court, was direct about the importance of the comeback win over the Hornets.
“Another loss there would not have been good at all for our confidence,” she said. “Getting a win is good regardless how you get it, and showing some fight like that is always good.”
Sophomore guard Toy Richbow, who has started every game at point guard this season, found the win to be particularly important right before Big 12 play begins tonight against Colorado.
“We started off slow, but we have started to pick it up as a team,” she said. “We came back pretty strong against Delaware State and that shows that we all have confidence in each other and have built trust.”
It’s a good time for the Tigers to maintain that confidence and trust, because the conference season starts in earnest with a visit from Colorado. Originally picked to finish 11th by the coaches in the preseason poll, the Buffaloes have been another pleasant surprise for the already stellar Big 12 conference. Senior forward Jackie McFarland is coming off an honorable mention All-American season and hasn’t let up, averaging 17.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Freshman forward Brittany Spears adds 13.5 points and 6.8 boards per game to spark the 11-2 Buffaloes.
After starting out 1-2, including a loss to Siena in their own Thanksgiving Tournament, Colorado has catapulted to the No. 23 ranking in the Associated Press poll thanks to 10 straight wins, including triumphs over No. 22-ranked Wyoming and a road upset over traditional SEC power and No. 17-ranked Vanderbilt.
“It used to be a one-player show; if you could stop that one player, you could win (against Colorado). Or if you let her get her points and stopped everyone else, you could beat them,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “Now, they’re so versatile and they’re a better defensive team. We’ll have our hands full.”
Since the Delaware State comeback, Missouri has been living on the practice floor. With no class to worry about, Stein has been taking full advantage of her players’ free time by scheduling two practices per day and running them more than usual.
“It’s tough when all you’re doing is practicing,” Hollins said. “I’ve been here for a minute, so I knew what to expect, but some of the younger girls didn’t know it was going to get this serious.”
But starting tonight, all the hard work and the two-a-day practices will be old news when the Tigers step on the court. It’s the beginning of Big 12 conference play and Missouri appreciates the clean slate.
“Some people look at our nonconference record at 7-6 and say we come in as the underdogs,” Richbow said. “But anything can happen in the Big 12. Whoever is willing to put the work in and bring the effort, hard work, and intensity can win any day.”