COLUMBIA — Twelve games into her collegiate career, two of which she watched from the bench, Christine Flores came to a realization.
“I just need to stop worrying about every single movement that I’m making," she decided. "I just need to play my game rather than worrying about everything.”
Colorado (8-8, 0-4)
at Missouri (10-7, 1-3 Big 12)
WHEN: 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM
Flores, a freshman on the Missouri women's basketball team, had just backed up a nine-point, five-rebound performance on Dec. 29 against Southeast Missouri State on with a 6-for-7, 17-point outburst five days later against Duquesne, and for the first time began to believe she could be a consistent scorer for the Tigers.
In the five games since that breakout performance, though, she has totaled just 15 points.
It is difficult to determine if the freshman's best game of the season was a fluke, or if she has underachieved, because her time on the court has been sporadic at best.
Flores scores 3.7 points per game, which makes her the team's leading scorer off the bench, but the freshman has spent an average of just six minutes on the court in Big 12 games. She has played more than 10 minutes five times this season, and been left on the bench for all 40 minutes against Indiana and Arkansas.
Missouri coach Cindy Stein said the inconsistent amount of playing time is the result of inconsistent play from Flores in practice.
“My hope was to be a little bit more ahead than she is," said Stein, who pointed out that the reconstructive ankle surgery Flores had in the offseason probably slowed her progress. “I think she’s trying to do all the right things, so I think you’re going to see her minutes keeps improving."
Flores said the surgery, which was the result of multiple ankle injuries over many years rather than one accident, has caused her defensive play to suffer.
“My biggest thing is moving my feet," she said. "It’s been more mental than anything, moving my feet, because I always moved my feet, and then I would roll my ankle, so it’s been hard.”
Flores, a 6-foot-3 center, might never have played college basketball if her high school had been equipped with a swimming pool. Entering high school, her parents decided their daughter, who was also played volleyball and swam competitively, should focus on one sport during the school year.
Although swimming was her favorite activity, Flores ended up playing basketball after her mother decided the 5:30 a.m. swim practices would make for an unbearable schedule for herself as well as her teenager.
Being agreeable, this decision was fine with Flores, who continued to swim during her summer breaks. Her pleasant and positive attitude was something Stein noticed while recruiting Flores.
Stein was the first coach to send Flores, a San Antonio native, a recruiting letter, though she later received offers from perennial top-10 program Baylor and several other schools.
While she temporarily conquered her nerves at the end of Missouri's nonconference schedule, Flores said the start of Big 12 play brought on a new round of uncertainty.
“It’s all a learning process your freshman year pretty much," she said. "A lot of the jitters I had first coming in (to conference play) are finally going away, and so now I just really go out and play my hardest and do what I can for the team.”
In Missouri's road loss to Iowa State on Wednesday night, Flores was called for two quick fouls after entering. She eventually fouled out, scoring just two points in 11 minutes.
"That’s what most freshmen make their first mistake at is they mess up or they’re afraid to mess up, and so they keep messing up and instead of correcting themselves they just stop playing," teammate RaeShara Brown said. “I think she probably was one of the first ones to realize that we don’t expect anybody to be perfect, we just ask that you give a full-blown effort."
Stein, who thinks Flores could start recording double-doubles at some point this season, has repeatedly said that the amount of playing time Flores and other freshmen receive is decided more by how consistent they play in practice rather than their performances in games.
“It’s not that you practice well, it’s just that you go as hard as you possibly can," Flores said. “It’s tiring, but in the end you’ve just got to keep thinking that it’s going to get me somewhere, some day.”
She thinks she's ready now.
“I do. I hope it comes soon," she said. "I hope I can help out the team.”
Missouri hosts Colorado at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.