Johnson leads Tigers off bench to beat Jayhawks

Saturday, February 7, 2009 | 8:24 p.m. CST; updated 7:51 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 12, 2009
Junior forward Jessra Johnson dribbles past Kansas’ Nicollette Smith on Feb. 7 at Mizzou Arena. Johnson came off the bench to lead the Tigers with 20 points in 14 minutes of play.

COLUMBIA — It was a vintage Jessra Johnson performance.

Well, it was at least a performance the Missouri women's basketball team had expected from the junior forward earlier this season.

There was a trademark 3-pointer from the top of the key, about the only place on the floor she'll attempt the long-range shot. After catching a lob pass from teammate Alyssa Hollins, she managed to score while falling face-first out of bounds while being fouled — an acrobatic move she pulls off more often than anyone else on the team.

Then, as Missouri was putting the finishing touches on its 74-60 victory over Kansas on Saturday at Mizzou Arena, she found a cutting Marissa Scott behind her with a no-look bounce pass for an easy score.

“Jessra had a big day. Big day for Jessra," Hollins said after the game, pausing to clap along with teammate Shakara Jones, with Johnson looking on. "When you go inside, and when you have Jessra and Shak working on the inside it makes it a lot easier to get stuff done on the outside."

Saturday's game against the Jayhawks marked the third in a row that Johnson did not start for the Tigers. The only other game she did not start this year was the result of a suspension.

Missouri coach Cindy Stein said she didn't want Johnson getting too comfortable coming off the bench.

“I don’t know if I ever want Jessra to adjust to that," Stein said. "What I’m seeing out of her is that she’s accepting the fact that she knows that she’s going to play a lot. More along those lines than, you know, 'I’ve got to start.'"

Johnson played only 14 minutes, but she finished with a team-high 20 points . She was 6-for-8 from the field and made seven of her eight free throws.

"I thought she made really good decisions today,” Stein said.

Johnson, not one to elaborate on her feelings, made an unconvincing argument about the benefit of coming off the bench.

“A lot of the stress is off of you because you’re not one of the people who’s out there in the beginning, so your nerves are more calm when you’re coming off the bench, so it hasn’t really affected me in a bad way," Johnson said. "But I won’t get used to that. It’s probably the longest I’ve done," she said, her voice trailing off.

When it was suggested that she might prefer to be back in the starting lineup, she offered only, “Coach Stein’s always right.”

For now, Stein is cautious with her compliments.

"I think what I’ve seen is a maturity in her, especially defensively," Stein said. "She’ll get beat by something once, right now very rarely can somebody beat her twice at the same thing. That didn’t always happen earlier in the year, so I think she’s obviously getting better in that aspect.”

That can only be good news for the Missouri women. Johnson is still the team's second leading scorer at more than 12 points a game, and, for a day, she played like it.

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