COLUMBIA — The stage seemed to be set for a dramatic come-from-behind victory for the Missouri women's basketball team. The Tigers (9-5, 0-1) outplayed No.3-ranked Texas A&M (13-1, 1-0) for the majority of Saturday night's game at Mizzou Arena. But in the end, a sluggish second half start that allowed the Aggies to open up a 17-point lead proved to be too much for Missouri to overcome.
"I was very disappointed in our last two minutes of our first half, and then obviously we didn't start the second half off very well," Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. "I just felt like if we could have taken away three or four minutes it could have been a different ballgame."
The Tigers and Aggies traded leads seven times in the first half, but consecutive turnovers by junior Marissa Scott and sophomore Shakara Jones enabled Texas A&M to end the period on a 6-0 run and carry a 27-23 lead into halftime. Missouri wouldn't get that close again until the 3:24 mark of the second half.
Missouri's slow start in second halves has been a developing trend over the last couple of home games. The Tigers got off to quick starts against Southeast Missouri State and Chicago State before losing their intensity level. But the difference in the level of competition the Tigers were facing was apparent on Saturday. Rather than coasting to 20-point victories — as they did in their previous two home games — the Tigers fell behind by 17 points and were forced to play catch-up the rest of the night.
"I think we probably have to get a little more bounce into them," Stein said. "Whether it's your warm-up when you come out of the half or maybe it's three-hour practices so they endure that."
Stein added that she didn't think her team's second-half woes were necessarily an indication of a poor effort, but she said it is something that the coaching staff must take responsibility for.
"We probably have to get them out here (on the court) a little earlier," Stein said. "I kept them in the locker room for quite a bit, so we probably got to get them out of here. It's probably my fault."
Stein said the intensity that her team starts games with makes it difficult for them to sustain the effort for the game's entirety.
"It's hard to sustain that intensity, but you're going to have to do it to win games in the Big 12," Stein said. "I think that we had a little drop-off where our kids questioned whether we could do it or not, and then basically we subbed. And we got a little more bounce and got a little bit more life and we went on a roll."
The Tigers didn't lack opportunities to get back into the game. They pulled within four points on three separate occasions in the final 3:24. But Scott, senior Alyssa Hollins and junior Jessra Johnson each missed three-point attempts that prevented the Tigers from getting any closer.
The Tigers' effort was not lost on the home crowd. As the Missouri players walked off the court, the announced crowd of 1,763 gave the Tigers a standing ovation. Jones said she had mixed emotions as she listened to the applause after suffering a defeat.
"We're disappointed because we wanted the W," Jones said. "But we also can't hang our heads because we played good and we fought to the end, and that's what we want."
But Stein made it abundantly clear that there were no feelings of contentment in her locker room after the game. As pleased as she was with her team's effort, she pointed out that there are still plenty of things it has to improve at if it wants to win games in the Big 12.
"That was nice of them (the fans), obviously," Stein said. "But we're not content. And I can tell you when I walked into our locker room, our players aren't content. We want to feel good about our effort, but we want to have that fire in our bellies still about getting a win."
The Tigers' next game is against Kansas at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Allen Fieldhouse.