COLUMBIA — Courtney Paris, No. 10 Oklahoma’s junior sensation, plays for the USA National Team in the summer and has won first-team All-America honors in each of her past two collegiate seasons. No current Missouri player has even made first-team All-Big 12.
Yet, the Tigers ignored the Sooners’ high rankings and numerous accolades. The result might end up being a loss close enough to save the season.
Oklahoma came into the game with four straight wins over Missouri, none closer than 14 points. The Sooners came in at 15-4, with no losses outside of the Top 25. They came in with 21 consecutive wins over teams from the Big 12 North.
And while they left with a fifth-straight win over the Tigers and 22 in a row over the North, it was their second closest win of the season. Missouri was shooting free throws with under 30 seconds left and only down a point.
“I saw it in their eyes before the game, I saw it at half, I saw in the second half, that they believed they could win this game,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said.
The dream died a little short on Wednesday night. The Sooners scored the game’s final six points to win 64-57, but it was nonetheless one of the best performances in a dismal season for the Tigers.
“We can hang with anybody if we’re working hard and doing the little things right,” sophomore forward Jessra Johnson said. “If we show a lot of heart, we can run up and down with anybody and that’s what we did tonight.”
Johnson shook off a knee injury suffered in the second half to score 11 points and grab nine rebounds, impressive considering the 6-foot-1 forward was decidedly outsized by the 6-foot-4 Paris twins.
Despite Johnson’s work on the glass, Oklahoma still outrebounded Missouri by a 58-27 margin. Courtney Paris led the charge with her 81st consecutive double-double, scoring 25 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. Ashley Paris had 19 points and 12 rebounds. Oklahoma’s opponents have come to expect a disparity like that, and Stein isn’t the first opposing coach to find a silver lining in the result.
“If you can hang with a top 10 team like that and get killed on the boards, then your work ethic is pretty good,” Stein said. “We had a lot of kids provide some great moments out there, but we still have to get a ‘W’ out there. We don’t believe in moral victories, but we do feel good about this.
“There were a lot of loose balls out there tonight, and we got a lot of them. They brought great attitude and great energy.”
Even though the loss was Missouri’s seventh straight, Stein knows that better times are coming. With only one upperclassman getting major minutes, she said she can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
“I think this should also be a confidence builder for us,” she said. “You’ve got a top 10 team that you took to the wire and you had an opportunity to win the game. Our post players grew up a lot tonight.”
After losing a late lead in Sunday’s game against Nebraska and coming up just short again against the Sooners, junior guard Alyssa Hollins was adamant that another win is in the offing.
“The last couple games have felt this way. We’re going to get one,” Hollins said. “You can’t keep playing this well, jelling the way we have, and continue to lose. If we keep working hard and playing well, we’re definitely going to get one.”