KANSAS CITY — The Missouri women’s basketball team ended its season Wednesday with its 16th double-digit loss of the season, a 65-39 loss to Texas A&M in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Conference Tournament, but the Tigers still seemed to finish the season on a strong note.
Missouri was a long shot to still be in the tournament Wednesday at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. It was supposed to bow out with a quick loss to Oklahoma in the first round, but the Tigers stunned the Sooners in overtime. Freshman forward Shakara Jones said the victory is something the team can carry into next year.
“It gave us a look at how good we can be next season, and kind of gave us a sight on something to work for,” Jones said. “Like next year, we could be the Big 12 champs.”
The Tigers (10-21, 2-14 Big 12) had the most losses in a season for the program, some that were never close in the final 10 minutes and some that were heartbreaking. They didn’t have a marquee nonconference win, and their two conference wins came against Texas Tech and Kansas, the 10th- and 11th-place teams in the conference. Beating Oklahoma gave some of the team’s younger players their first win over an upper-tier team.
“Winning a game like that gave a lot of girls the feeling of what it feels like to win, and how great it feels, and how high you can fly,” junior guard Alyssa Hollins said. “Having to come back the next day and a team as good as Texas A&M shows you how good the Big 12 is and how you need to be focused.”
While the season featured more negative than positive moments, coach Cindy Stein said the bad things the team had this season will pay off next year. Everyone on the roster got experience and all except senior center Nicole Wilson will be back.
“I think we’re going to get better from this, just the kids going through what they did this year,” Stein said. “All of them got playing time.”
While the Tigers were clearly the worst team in the conference this season — they were the only team to finish under .500 overall and all other 11 teams will likely play in a postseason tournament — there is a precedent for a quick turnaround.
Regular-season conference champion Kansas State finished last season tied for last in the conference with a 4-12 conference record and went 13-3 this season. While that type of turnaround is ambitious, Stein said the Tigers can become a good team next season.
“We have talent on our team,” Stein said. “The key for us is our consistency. You have to learn how to play consistently hard and well. You just can’t play hard, you have to do things right and that’s where we were inconsistent all year.”
JONES LIMITED: One day after a strong offensive game against Oklahoma post players Courtney and Ashley Paris, freshman forward Shakara Jones scored only four points and had two rebounds against Texas A&M. While the Aggies don’t have the intimidating presence the Sooners offer, they were able to shut Jones down by making sure she didn’t get the ball.
“Paris played behind, we play in front, and they couldn’t get the lob over to her, and our style worked a little bit better,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said.
Jones, who took only five shots and made two, said she had a hard time getting the ball and getting a good look at the basket when she did.
“They’re a very aggressive defensive team, so for anyone to get open is hard,” Jones said.
TURNING POINT: The Tigers trailed the entire game after taking a 4-2 lead in the opening minutes, but stayed in the game throughout the first half and trailed by seven at intermission.
A&M took control of the game as soon as the second half started and built a lead that kept growing until the final basket. The Tigers quickly fell into a double-digit hole in the second half, and were unable to get the lead down to single digits again.
“You’re just kind of like ‘oh man,’ because we won yesterday,” Jones said. “Really negative thoughts I don’t think were going through anybody’s heads because we were trying to pick each other up.”
Blair said that was a key point in the game because it put a fatigued Tiger team in a deep hole and made it tougher for them to stay in striking range and think they could pull off another upset.
“The place sure would have erupted because I’m sure Iowa State and every team in the north would have been pulling for them to keep going,” Blair said.