COLUMBIA — In the first matchup between Missouri and Nebraska on Feb. 3 in Columbia, the Tigers held a 61-51 lead with 5:34 remaining and were poised to break a five-game losing streak. One 22-6 Huskers run and three more losses later, Missouri sulks into Lincoln for the rematch on a nine-game losing skid.
The Tigers and the Huskers came into the season in similar predicaments. Both teams flamed out in the first round of last year’s Big 12 tournament and postseason — although, Missouri lost in the WNIT and Nebraska in the NCAA Tournament. Both teams lost four starters, including their leading scorer. And both are young; Missouri has no seniors and six newcomers, while Nebraska has only one senior and also brought in six newcomers for the 2007-08 season.
Nebraska did have one advantage at the start of the season, its lone returning starter was first-team All-Big 12 forward Kelsey Griffin. Griffin hasn’t let up during her junior season, averaging 14.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. She torched the Tigers in the first meeting this year, scoring 23 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Missouri freshman forward Shakara Jones held her own in the game at Mizzou Arena, scoring 12 points and getting six rebounds. She has been tested throughout her first season, facing all-conference performers such as Colorado’s Jackie McFarland, Oklahoma’s Courtney and Ashley Paris, and Texas A&M’s Danielle Gant already this year. The Tigers will need another strong performance from Jones to pull off an upset in Lincoln.
Despite Griffin’s prowess and the Tigers’ dwindling confidence, there are reasons to think this could be the road upset Missouri has been looking for. Recent history between these teams is even, as they have split the last 10 games. But in a bizarre twist, the Tigers have won five straight games at Nebraska’s Bob Devaney Sports Center, while the Huskers came out victorious five consecutive times in Columbia, including this year.
Also, the Huskers have struggled on the defensive end lately, and they rank 11th in the conference in scoring defense. However, Missouri is the only team that gives up more points than Nebraska. The Huskers gave up 92 points in their previous home game, an 11-point loss to Oklahoma State on Feb. 10. Then, they went on the road and lost by a point to a weak Kansas team, dropping the Huskers to 6-5 in Big 12 play.
In addition to containing Griffin, the Tigers will need another big night from junior guard Alyssa Hollins. In the first meeting, she scored 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting and grabbed a career-high eight rebounds. She also hit on four of seven 3-point attempts in that game.
Hollins is also on the verge of Missouri history. With 140 career 3-pointers made, including 64 so far this season, she will break both records Thursday night if she makes her season average of almost three per game.
With only five games remaining before next month’s Big 12 conference tournament, Missouri is officially in the home stretch of the regular season. Despite a sinking confidence level, the Tigers need to learn to win on the road if they want to make a dent in the postseason. A sixth straight win at Nebraska would be a strong start.