COLUMBIA–MU women's basketball coach Cindy Stein watched her team commit numerous turnovers on Friday night. She saw her players shoot under 50 percent from the free throw line. And she witnessed her defense give up several open looks down the stretch to the South Dakota State Jackrabbits on Friday night.
Ultimately, she suffered through an all too familiar and frustrating 55-50 loss.
Despite all of that, Stein entered the postgame press conference with an upbeat demeanor.
"I'm very disappointed in the loss," Stein said. "But I'm very encouraged about our team. South Dakota State's a really good team, and sometimes I don't know if everybody realizes the quality of team that they are."
The Jackrabbits finished last season with a 23-7 record and returned four starters from a team that won the Summit League regular season championship. One of those wins was a 78-63 victory over the Tigers.
Missouri stymied the Jackrabbit offense in the first half, holding them to just 17 points on 16 percent shooting. The Tigers went into the locker room at halftime with a 24-17 lead, but Stein said she thought her team failed to add to that lead when it had the chance.
"A lot of it it is uncharacteristic turnovers," Stein said. "Our spacing was bad at times on offense, and we rushed through our offense."
The Tigers finished the game with 20 turnovers, which the Jackrabbits converted into 18 points. Missouri also struggled at the charity stripe, shooting 48 percent.
"I think you have to credit them (SDSU) for some of the turnovers we had," Stein said. "But there's no reason for us to shoot like that from the free throw line."
The Tigers were paced by sophomore forward Shakara Jones, who finished with a game high 16 points and six rebounds despite sitting out the final nine minutes of the first half after picking up her second foul and facing double-teams throughout the entire game.
The Tigers also got 13 points from senior guard Alyssa Hollins, who scored all but two of her points in the second half.
"In the first half I saw my shot a lot I just wasn't taking it," Hollins said. "I felt like I could drive on those girls all day and get to the rim and get a fouled and get a bucket, so I wanted to get to the rim a little bit more and I did it — but not enough."
Junior forward Jessra Johnson also scored in double figures and finished with 11 points on four-of-13 shooting.
While Stein was pleased with the production she got from her two star players, she acknowledged that the lack of balance on offense was concerning. Jones and Hollins accounted for 58 percent of the Tigers' scoring.
"We didn't give them (Hollins and Jones) enough room to move either," Stein said. "We really crowded each other out there and a lot of it was we were overrunning things."
The Tigers struggled to move the ball effectively the entire game, finishing the game with only six assists.
Their struggles culminated on one of the game's final possessions when junior point guard Toy Richbow dribbled aimlessly on the perimeter with her team down four points and the clock ticking under 10 seconds. The possession ended with an off-balance jump shot by Jones, which rolled off the rim and sealed the victory for the Jackrabbits.
Although the end result looked very similar to many of the games the Tigers played last season, Stein said there was something different about this loss that she couldn't quite put her finger on.
"Last year was last year," Stein said. "And I threw that out the window. I felt we had so much more fight in us this game. The great thing about this team is that in practice I don't have to pull things out of them. Last year, just to get them excited about someone taking a charge you had to pull it out of them. They'd all just kind of look at you. This year this group is exciting, they have energy, they're fun and they work very hard."
Stein expects that energy to pay dividends in the near future.
"Even though this is a loss I think the energy and the buzz they create around each other is very very good," Stein said. "And that chemistry is going to win a lot of games."
The Tigers next game Nov. 19 at the University of Illinois.