COLUMBIA — While MU's classrooms are empty this week and thousands of students have left Columbia to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with their family, the members of the Missouri women's basketball team are cramming extra playing time into their suddenly free schedules.
“Coach (Cindy) Stein knows that we don’t really have a life now, and we’re just here by ourselves, so she takes advantage of that," said junior Jessra Johnson after Missouri's loss to Indiana on Tuesday night. “It gives you more time to focus on basketball instead of school and other things like going to class and getting up earlier, so you have more time to come in and get extra shots in or stay after."
Thanks to the holiday break, the team's practices have been starting earlier, at 1 p.m. instead of 4 p.m, and lasting as long as three hours, according to sophomore RaeShara Brown.
"It’s a little longer, but you really don’t notice it because you’re body doesn’t have as much wear and tear because you’re getting more rest time," Brown said. "You don’t mind going hard for those three hours knowing that you’re going to get rest when you get done."
Stein laughed at the idea that a week away from the classrooms might help her team, but said she suspects players have some extra incentive to perform well in practice.
“I’m sure that they’re really motivated to get practice done really well those first couple hours so they can have the rest of the day," she said. "But I actually think that this team — they’ve responded when we’ve talked to them about free throws, they’re in here shooting free throws. This team responds, and I think that you see that."
The underlying message here is that Stein wants her players, who have made just 54 percent of their free throws during their 1-3 start to the season, to spend some extra time in the gym, and they have. The Tigers made six of their nine free-throw attempts against Indiana.
More troubling than Missouri's free-throw shooting, has been the lack of contribution from players outside of Johnson, Alyssa Hollins and Shakara Jones.
The trio, which led the Tigers in scoring last season, have scored almost 70 percent of Missouri's points this season.
Stein was frustrated after Tuesday's game because she said she felt some players had passed on taking wide open shots, and admitted that the team lacks confidence at times.
Hollins, the only senior on Missouri's roster, also talked about the need for more players to score and for more time to be spent on the court between games.
“I feel like it needs to be more, especially when we’re not winning games," she said. "It’s one of those things where people have to get comfortable out there, and in order to get comfortable out there you have to put in the work before we get to the games."
Stein said there would be time for more individual attention and coaching this week because of the extra time, something Brown says she looks forward to.
“When school’s in session you only have certain, limited hours of time to work out and to get to gel better as a team," the guard said. "Now that we have a full week off besides playing together, you get more practice time. You can spend more time working on the smaller things that help the team gel together rather than just rushing through things.”
The Tigers will spend Thanksgiving in Columbia before traveling to Evanston, Ill. where they will try to string together victories for the first time this season against Holy Cross (0-4) and Northwestern (2-3) over the weekend.
“It’s not just going to come," Hollins said. "You have to go work for what you want. You have to go get it. So if that means coming to the gym, especially now that we have time off, you’ve got to get in the gym and gets some shots up."