COLUMBIA — With a young team featuring four freshmen and four sophomores, one of the biggest goals of the season for the MU women’s basketball team was to build confidence.
But there haven’t been many opportunities to do that in a season filled with second-half collapses and frustrating losses, and the team is frustrated.
“They’ve been down,” Missouri women’s basketball coach Cindy Stein said during Tuesday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference. “They’ve been very disappointed in their own play, their teammates play and then obviously losing.”
Stein said the team has become too consumed with its nine-game losing streak, its last place standing in the conference and its 8-16 record. She said the players have to forget about the lack of success on the court this season and just play.
“With young kids, they’re basketball players, but that’s not who they are,” Stein said. “Sometimes they get caught up in the win-loss record and connecting that with their identity and it’s not. They have to bring their personalities and everything else and not let our losing affect who they are and what they’re about. That’s a hard lesson to get them to understand and accept.”
But for the Tigers to get their second conference win, they’ll need to learn that lesson. Junior guard Alyssa Hollins, sophomore forward Jessra Johnson and freshman forward Shakara Jones combine to average 40.4 of MU’s 59.5 points per game, and the Tigers desperately need someone to help balance the load. Stein has been searching for someone to take more of the scoring burden throughout this season, and a lack of confidence from other players has prevented one from emerging.
“As a coach, that’s your job,” Stein said. “You’ve got to get them to see the light at the end of the tunnel and I think there’s a huge light at the end of the tunnel.”
TOURNAMENT HOPEFULS: Iowa State would be seen as a bubble team right now in most conferences. The Cyclones (16-8, 5-6 Big 12) sit at seventh in the league standings after winning three of their last four games, but ISU coach Bill Fennelly thinks his team should be a lock for an NCAA tournament berth factoring in the strength of the Big 12.
“From one to 12 it’s by far the best I’ve ever seen,” said Fennelly, who is in his 13th season coaching the Cyclones. “There are 11 teams in this league I think that will be in the postseason, and I think there are nine teams that could be in the NCAA Tournament.”
While he didn’t campaign for nine teams to be in the tournament, Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke said the conference is the toughest in the nation and a losing record in conference play shouldn’t eliminate a team from NCAA tournament consideration.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Budke said. I think we’d all be disappointed if we didn’t get eight teams in. I think six wins in this conference should get you in the tournament.”
TWO-TEAM RACE? Baylor’s easy win over Oklahoma dropped the Sooners to 8-3 in conference play and kept the Bears in the running at 10-2, one-half game behind 10-1 conference-leader Kansas State. Budke, who’s Cowgirls are tied with OU at 10-3 in conference play, said a conference title is most likely out of reach for everybody except Kansas State and Baylor, but said the Cowgirls needed to continue to win to ensure a bye in the conference tournament.
“I don’t see Kansas State losing too much more. I think they’ve got it going, I like their schedule,” Budke said. “Teams are looking to get those bye spots and we need to win enough games to hopefully secure one of those spots.”
Kansas State coach Deb Patterson was more cautious than Budke.
“There’s five games left and that’s just short of a third of the Big 12 season,” Patterson said. “I certainly am appreciative of where we sit today, but I don’t know that it has any reflection whatsoever on the future.”
APPROACHING A MILESTONE: Texas A&M coach Gary Blair will get his first shot to earn his 500th career win when the Aggies take on Iowa State today. Blair, who is 62-years-old, said he was proud of the pending accomplishment because he didn’t land a head coaching job until he was 40. He also doesn’t plan on leaving the game anytime soon.
“I plan on coaching like Lute Olson and Joe Paterno; I’m going to be here,” Blair said.