Mills provides Tigers with much needed balance

Thursday, December 18, 2008 | 1:48 p.m. CST; updated 11:46 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 18, 2008
Missouri's Bekah Mills suffered a season-ending knee injury before the start of last season and was seeing limited minutes at the start of this season. But she has started the past five games at point guard.

COLUMBIA — Coming into this season, Missouri women’s basketball coach Cindy Stein knew she had at least three players returning from last year’s squad that were capable of providing consistent production on offense. Her top three scorers—senior Alyssa Hollins, junior Jessra Johnson and sophomore Shakara Jones—were all returning and figured to continue to lead the Tigers on offense.

But Stein also knew that for her team to be successful it would need to find a balance on offense that would prevent defenses from converging on Hollins, Johnson and Jones. The Tigers’ inability to find consistent fourth and fifth options might have been the biggest factor contributing to their lackluster 1-4 start.

The trio has accounted for nearly 60 percent of Missouri’s scoring this season, but that number has steadily decreased in the past five games. Through the first five games they scored more than 70 percent of the Tigers’ points and Missouri’s offense became stagnant. The Tigers scored more than 65 points only once during that stretch.

But over the past four games the Tigers have scored 74 points per game and have had a number of players step up and contribute offensively. In those four games—all of which were victories, eight players scored at least eight points. Only four players reached that number through the first five games.

“Well we have the potential to be able to score from a lot of positions,” Stein said after practice on Thursday. “I think that we tend to rely too much on Alyssa (Hollins), Shak (Jones) or J (Johnson). So I think the other kids are feeling a little more comfortable in trying to establish their own roles.”

One player who has been particularly impressive the past week has been redshirt freshman Bekah Mills. Mills suffered a season-ending knee injury before the start of last season and was seeing limited minutes at the start of this season. But she has started the past five games at point guard and played at least 20 minutes in each game. As her minutes have increased, so has her production.

On Monday, Mills was named the Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Week after she averaged 14.5 points and shot 72.5 percent in the Tigers' victories over Bradley and UT Martin.

Mills said it has taken her some time to work herself back into playing shape but that she is finally in a position where she doesn’t have to worry about re-injuring her knee.

“I feel back full speed,” Mills said. “I haven’t really thought about anything with my knee. So it’s just working on my game.”

Stein said Mills’ play hasn’t really been a surprise to her. She said she had planned on giving Mills significant minutes last season before she hurt her knee.

“I think that it’s hard to say that she’s improved because obviously we didn’t have her last year,” Stein said. “So I think she’s just getting back to form actually. She’s playing very similarly to how she was playing at the beginning of the year last year before she went down.”

Hollins said the newfound balance has lightened the load and makes it easier for her to take advantage of the scoring opportunities she is given since she isn’t seeing as many double-teams.

“I think it’s easier,” Hollins said. “It’s less pressure because I don’t feel like I have to do everything. People are stepping up and getting some buckets, hitting some shots and we need them.”

Missouri (5-4) will play at Arkansas at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The Razorbacks (8-2) defeated the Tigers 66-53 last year at Mizzou Arena.

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