COLUMBIA — When Missouri junior guard Alyssa Hollins drilled a 3-pointer to complete a 9-0 run at the beginning of the second half, Colorado coach Kathy McConnell-Miller pleaded with her players to relax and slow down. The run had given the Tigers women’s basketball team a 32-28 lead, but the Buffaloes’ shooters made sure the lead was short-lived.
Colorado’s Bianca Smith scored 11 points, including three 3-pointers, and Brittany Spears added eight during a 22-4 run that deflated any hopes of a Missouri upset on the opening night of Big 12 Conference play for both teams Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena.
“They (Missouri) were doing a good job getting into us, taking away the wing entry and the reversal,” McConnell-Miller said. “We settled them down a little bit, went to more of our counters than our traditional sets, and just knocked down some shots.”
For Missouri (7-7, 0-1), the story was quite the opposite. The Tigers missed their first eight shots, and it never got much better in a 70-58 loss. The Tigers shot 30.4 percent from the field, including a ghastly 20.6 percent (7-of-34) in the first half. However, solid defense on Buffaloes’ All-American center Jackie McFarland kept the game close. McFarland hit her season average on the head with 17 points, but committed eight turnovers. It wasn’t until Spears and Smith started draining threes that the No. 23-ranked Buffs could pull away.
Spears came in as the Big 12 Rookie of the Week, averaging 13.5 points and 6.8 rebounds, and she didn’t let up. She finished with a career-high 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting and chipped in seven boards.
“I’m proud of a freshman coming in her first Big 12 game and scoring 24 points against a strong defensive team,” McConnell-Miller said.
But while Colorado (12-2, 1-0) has depended on Spears and McFarland all season, it was Smith who stole the show.
The first player off the bench, she has been playing well as of late. She had 14 points, including 4-of-7 on3-pointers.
“We like that we can go to our bench, and we get our offensive attack, our gunner,” McConnell-Miller said. “She understands exactly what she does well, and when her feet are set, we know it’s in.”
Missouri, short-handed all season with only 10 healthy players, has been further hindered by the absence of forward Marissa Scott because of mononucleosis. While Coach Cindy Stein used all nine available players for at least six minutes, any sort of foul trouble or injury could be a death toll. And sure enough, when junior forward Jessra Johnson picked up her third foul early in the second half, Colorado went on the clinching run and the Tigers didn’t have the offense to stop the bleeding.
“It affected us in that when you take Jessra out of the picture, it hurts our scoring,” Stein said. “They were doing a good job on Alyssa, and we weren’t getting a lot of inside game. We struggled with somebody else in that role, and it’s just something else we have to get better at.”
Considering the Tigers’ next six games are against teams either ranked or receiving votes in the latest Associated Press poll, it’s no time to get down. Stein stressed how important it will be to bounce back from the loss before Saturday’s home game against Texas Tech.
“We can’t be totally lose faith because we lost this game,” she said. “We need to be more determined on learning quicker, so we can come back and get this next one, especially because it’s at home.”
HOLLINS ON TARGET: Hollins led the Tigers with 22 points, hitting six of 10 3-point attempts. Senior center Nicole Wilson, the former MU volleyball standout, got her second straight start in place of Shakara Jones. Scott has returned to the practice floor in some capacity on the tail end of her bout with mononucleosis, but her return to game action has yet to be determined.