Tigers squeak by Western Illinois

Saturday, November 22, 2008 | 10:13 p.m. CST; updated 10:29 p.m. CST, Saturday, November 22, 2008
MU Kendra Frazier (34) fights for a rebound with Western Illinois' Katie Horsman (5) during the first half of Missouri's 61-54 win Saturday at Mizzou Arena
COLUMBIA — The MU women’s basketball team was staring at its first 0-3 start since 1975. The Tigers trailed Western Illinois (1-1) 52-49 with under four minutes to play and during the media timeout MU coach Cindy Stein was looking at a team that was  reeling.

But from that point on the Tigers outscored Western Illinois 12-2 to earn their first win since March 11, 2008. Still Stein can’t remember what she told her team during that timeout.

“I couldn’t tell you,” Stein said. “There wasn’t any great things being called out there, some brainiac move. We just got to keep it to basics right now. That’s the focus of the whole team. And once we did that, we were very very sharp.”

The Tigers were led by junior forward Jessra Johnson who was held out of the starting lineup for violating an undisclosed team policy. Johnson finished the game with 22 points and 12 rebounds. She was particularly effective from the perimeter, hitting four of her six three-point attempts.

In the final four minutes Johnson scored four points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal. Johnson’s production was critical for the Tigers considering the subpar performance of their leading scorer, senior guard Alyssa Hollins. Hollins finished with only six points on one-of-11 shooting.

“If someone’s playing Shak (sophomore forward Shakara Jones) and Alyssa harder than they are me it’s not more pressure, it’s opportunity to score more.”

Even though Hollins' shot was off the mark for most of the game, she came up with four huge free throws to ice the game. With nine seconds left the Tigers had a 57-54 lead when Western Illinois junior guard Jordon O’Brien picked up a technical foul after a defensive foul by Western Illinois senior forward Rasheena Salter. Hollins promptly walked to the free throw and sunk four consecutive free throws to seal the victory for the Tigers.

“We needed this,” Hollins said. “The past couple games we’ve been working pretty hard and coming up short and not really getting over the hill. It’s just good for morale in general to come in and get a win.”

Despite her struggles shooting the ball, Hollins was effective in getting her teammates involved. She finished the game with five assists including an assist to Jones with 2:15 left to play that gave the Tigers the lead for the first time since the 7:36 mark. The Tigers would never relinquish that lead.

Stein said she was pleased with her team’s effort but saw some obvious room for improvement. Nevertheless, she was more than happy to walk out of Mizzou Arena with her first victory since last season’s Big 12 Tournament.

“You’ve got to find a way to win at this point,” Stein said. “And our kids are trying extremely hard to do those things. It’s a matter of settling them down and getting them a little bit more confident in some things.” 

The win improves MU’s record to 1-2. The Tigers next game is against Indiana on Tuesday, Nov. 25 at Mizzou Arena.

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