COLUMBIA — In a game decided in the final seconds, rebounding and free-throw shooting — two recurring problems — were big factors in another close loss for the MU women’s basketball team Wednesday.
The Tigers were outrebounded by 20 and shot just 64.3 percent from he free-throw line in a 58-54 loss to Iowa State at Mizzou Arena.
“Tonight was a battle of the boards, plain and simple,” MU coach Cindy Stein said. “The rebounding situation obviously was the key to the ballgame. I think our kids battled, I think we’re getting better, we just have to do a better job on the boards.”
The Tigers (9-18, 2-12 Big 12) entered the game last in the Big 12 Conference in rebounding and rebounds allowed, and they were completely dominated on the glass by Iowa State (17-10, 6-8). Sophomore forward Jessra Johnson led MU with seven boards, while the Cyclones had three players with at least that many.
The problem wasn’t that the Tigers were losing battles against another player. It was that not enough people were going to the rim to try to pull down a board.
“I just feel like we weren’t rebounding as a team,” Johnson said. “We had maybe one or two (players) constantly going in for the rebound. We didn’t have the four that we needed.”
The rebounding effort was hurt when freshman forward Shakara Jones, who entered the game second on the team in rebounds (5.8 rpg), didn’t grab any because she played a career-low 15 minutes because of foul trouble.
“It’s a group effort all the time, but Shak does help us with the boards, but we just have to find a way, any way (to get rebounds),” Stein said.
The Tigers have been outrebounded in every Big 12 game except their home loss to Nebraska and have had an especially rough time with the Cyclones. Iowa State pulled down 15 more rebounds than the Tigers in MU’s loss in Ames. Stein said the Cyclones’ perimeter-oriented offense can make it tough to corral rebounds.
“If they miss, it’s a long rebound; it’s a hard rebound,” Stein said. “They anticipate things really well, they’ve always been known as a great rebounding team.”
MU’s season-long struggles from the free throw line continued on Wednesday. The Tigers entered play last in the conference in free throw percentage (62.7 percent) and did nothing to improve that standing.
Johnson and junior guard Alyssa Hollins made all eight of their combined attempts, but the rest of the team went just 1-for-6. The two biggest misses were by senior center Nicole Wilson, who drew a foul in the paint with 2:49 remaining and the score tied, but couldn’t convert either foul shot.
“If we make our free throws, we win,” Stein said.
TAKING CARE OF THE BALL: One season-long negative that MU has steadily improved in recently is turnovers. The Tigers had a season-low seven turnovers against the Cyclones and are averaging 10.7 turnovers in their last six games after averaging 17.5 before that. Stein said the sharp decrease in turnovers has come as the young team continues to mature down the stretch.
“I just think we’re making better decisions,” Stein said. “We’re handling the pressure. We know what to look for in the offensive sets, we know how people play us. We know if they’re denying what to look for and if they’re sagging what to look for.”
A COMPROMISE?: Hollins had an open look at a 3-point shot that would have given MU a one-point lead, but it went halfway down before rimming out with six seconds remaining, leaving the Tigers down two. Hollins thought the shot was going to fall and joked that the team should have gotten some credit for the near goal.
“It went in and went out didn’t it?” Hollins asked. “We should’ve got like two and a half.”