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Columbia Missourian

Tournament offers MU women's basketball team second shot

March 10, 2008 | 11:17 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — When the Missouri women’s basketball team lost a heartbreaking game to Oklahoma in the regular season, it looked like the only chance the Tigers would have to play the Sooners again would be in a game deep in the Big 12 Conference Tournament.

But the Sooners fell to the fifth seed with a late-season swoon and the Tigers will have another chance to upset Oklahoma today.

Tuesday's game

Big 12 Conference Tournament No. 12 Missouri (9-20, 2-14 Big 12) vs. No. 5 Oklahoma (21-7, 11-5) WHEN: 2:30 p.m. WHERE: Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City RADIO: KFRU/AM 1400

“We’re happy to get them,” junior guard Alyssa Hollins said. “We played them well here (at home), so we’re happy to get another crack at them.”

The Tigers took Oklahoma down to the final seconds Feb. 6 at Mizzou Arena before falling, 64-57. Down by a point with 25 seconds left to play, Missouri had a chance to take the lead, but sophomore point guard Toy Richbow missed the front end of a one-and-one free-throw opportunity, and the Sooners scored the last six points of the game.

“We know we can play with them,” Hollins said. “We actually outplayed them for about 38 minutes at our place, so we know we can compete with them.”

The Sooners looked to be a lock for a first-round bye before the final week of the season, but back-to-back losses to Texas and Texas A&M put them into a three-way tie for third place in the conference, which left them as the fifth seed. Even though Oklahoma ended the season on a down note, Missouri coach Cindy Stein said this wasn’t necessarily a good time to be playing the Sooners.

“Everything was in their control, but they had two tough teams to play, though,” Stein said. “I think they’ll probably be a little fired up.”

The Tigers will be without one of the players who helped them give the Sooners a scare in the regular season. Senior center Nicole Wilson had just four points and two rebounds in 18 minutes, but she did a good job of drawing fouls on Oklahoma center Courtney Paris, who missed significant time in the second half because of foul trouble. Wilson won’t play because of a high ankle sprain suffered in the Tigers’ regular season finale.

“We’ll have to play a little more aggressive. We may have to look to do things a little bit more full-court wise,” Stein said. “The key is going to be staying out of foul trouble and still being aggressive.”

Losing Wilson thins an already spread out front court. Freshman forward Shakara Jones, who said words couldn’t describe how excited she was to be facing the Paris twins again, and sophomore forward Jessra Johnson will lead the defensive effort against Courtney and Ashley Paris in the post. Jones said there was no extra pressure on her, but she knows she has to be careful to avoid foul trouble.

“It’s a lot on my mind because now I’m going to really have to play smart,” Jones said.

While the Sooners present a strong challenge, the Tigers aren’t focusing on Oklahoma. Instead, Stein said the young team needs to focus on putting together what the team has learned from the regular season.

“I think we’re still looking to put all the pieces together,” Stein said. “I think that’s our challenge more than how are we going to beat Oklahoma.”

The Tigers are also trying to figure out the pieces for success in the conference tournament. Missouri is 5-11 in the tournament’s 11-year history, has never made the finals and has lost in the first round six times.

With a 9-20 record, Missouri’s only hope to play beyond the Big 12 tournament will be to win it and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. History isn’t on its side there, either. The Tigers are looking to be just the second team to win the conference tournament without having a first-round bye.

“It’s not like we need a miracle,” Stein said. “We just have to play hard ... We don’t think that it’s a daunting challenge, but it will be a tough one.”