KANSAS CITY – As Alyssa Hollins and Jessra Johnson go, so go the Missouri Tigers. Or at least that was the story during the regular season.
In the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament, the Tigers shook off awful shooting nights from their top two stars to pull off one of the biggest upsets in college basketball this season, a 70-64 overtime win over No. 13 Oklahoma at Municipal Auditorium.
Hollins, the Tigers leading scorer at 16.7 points per game, hit just three of 18 shots during regulation and had trouble breaking free from Oklahoma’s perimeter defenders. She had only nine points going into overtime, which would have been her fourth-lowest output of the season and the first time she hadn’t reached double digits since a loss to Oklahoma State on Jan. 16. But a host of other players stepped up to fill the void, and gave Hollins a chance to redeem herself in overtime.
“I’ve been playing basketball for a long time, and I know scoring isn’t everything,” she said. “(My teammates) knocking down shots took a lot of pressure off me. I stayed relaxed and kept shooting. I know I have to keep shooting for us to be successful, but other girls stepped up.”
Hollins swished a 3-pointer from the corner just 45 seconds into the extra period, a jumper two seconds later and made five-of-six free throws down the stretch to finish off the win. She finished with 19 points on 5-of-21 shooting, but with the help of her teammates, she will play another day.
“I think you have to have a short memory,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking about all those misses in the game. I was just hoping to knock down shots and they went down.”
If anyone had an excuse to struggle against the Sooners, it was Johnson. The 6-foot-1 sophomore from Fayette drew the task of guarding Courtney Paris, the two-time Big 12 Player of the Year and an absolute terror in the post. The 6-foot-4 Paris finished with 30 points and 20 rebounds, but Johnson made her work for every single one.
On multiple occasions, Paris sent Johnson sprawling after a tussle under the boards, and Johnson even landed on her head after one scramble on a missed free throw. Johnson rose slowly, and chugged downcourt to do it all over again.
Paris won the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award, but Johnson held her own on the offensive end as well. She finished with 16 points, albeit on 4-of-21 shooting, and grabbed 14 hard-fought rebounds in 41 minutes of playing time. Most importantly, she made 3-of 4 free throws and picked up four boards in overtime, when Missouri finally pulled away for the victory.
“This is what you look for,” Johnson said. “I played like there was no tomorrow and I would do it again tomorrow if I had to.”
Head coach Cindy Stein attributed Johnson’s play to her underrated strength and an unfailing determination.
“Jessra is strong and very explosive,” Stein said. “She can position herself very well and her strength allows her to do those things against the (Paris) twins, and she just really battles. We may not get (every rebound), but we have to be in the fight and not abandon ship. And Jessra was in there the whole time.”
With Johnson and Hollins off target offensively, someone had to pick up the slack. Freshman forward Shakara Jones played a great game in the post against Ashley Paris, but the supporting cast’s biggest star was Amanda Hanneman, a deadly 3-point shooter averaging 7.5 points per game off the bench. When she calmly drilled a transition three from the right wing with 15.7 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 53, it was her fifth basket in as many attempts on Tuesday.
“Alyssa and Jessra are our main shooters, and when they’re struggling, everybody knows they should step up,” Hanneman said. “Everybody did their part today, everybody had their moments. We played like a real complete team today.”
Hollins was glad her teammate was able to show her skills on a big stage. Hanneman hails from Blue Springs, just outside of Kansas City, and her fans laid claim to much of the Missouri cheering section.
“She was amazing,” Hollins said of Hanneman. “She’s been ‘c’mon guys, let’s go’ all season, and she deserves it, especially in front of her family. She works hard, and she knocks down shots.”
“I don’t think Oklahoma was expecting that. Sometimes, teams just key in on me or Jessra and Shak, so somebody else stepping up is huge for us. We have other talent that hasn’t done that yet.”