COLUMBIA—Missouri sophomore forward Shakara Jones let out a sigh of relief after her team’s 52-43 victory over No. 16-ranked Kansas State. It was the Tigers' first win over a ranked team this season.
“Oh it feels good,” Jones said with a smile on her face. “I think everybody was just smiling after that. It just feels good to get a win, especially over a ranked team. Why not?”
The victory is the Tigers’ second in the past three games. It’s the first time the team has put together such a streak in Big 12 Conference play since it won three in a row in February 2007. The win was also the Tigers’ third conference victory this season; they have now surpassed their win total for the entire 2008 Big 12 season (2-14). Modest improvement, but improvement nonetheless.
The Wildcats were without their Wooden Award candidate, senior point guard Shalee Lehning who has been out the past two games with mononucleosis. But that was something Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said didn’t excuse her team’s performance nor take away from Missouri’s.
“To me, it’s sort of a moot point at this point,” Patterson said. “We stepped on the floor a game ago and played very well on the offensive end (a 79-71 victory over Oklahoma State) and tonight we came on the floor and absolutely played atrocious. So we have to credit Missouri’s defense and their heart and their toughness and their competitiveness and their desire.”
Missouri coach Cindy Stein said her team exploited Lehing’s absence by using more full court pressure and forcing players who typically don’t play the point guard position to bring the ball up the floor.
“When you have that happen, it does take your rhythm off a little bit,” Stein said.
The Tigers were without their own starting point guard. Bekah Mills sat out with a knee injury that she suffered in the team’s loss to Baylor on Saturday. After that game, Stein said Mills’ absence caused her offense to become stagnant. But she didn’t think that was a problem against the Wildcats.
“I felt like Toy (Richbow) and Rae (RaeShara Brown) were the difference today,” Stein said. “I thought they were the difference defensively and I thought they both did a good job offensively of getting us into our sets.”
But all the postgame talk kept gravitating back to the Missouri’s defensive performance, which may have been its best of the season. Stein hesitated when asked that question, but she couldn’t help but admit that she was impressed by her players’ effort.
“Our defense was very very good, but they’re going to get big headed,” Stein said jokingly.
The victory ended a brutal stretch in which Missouri play four ranked teams in five games. Now the Tigers have only one game against a ranked team (Texas) left on their schedule and will play three teams that are within at least one game of them in the Big 12 standings. Missouri is in ninth place but one game separates them from seventh place and from last place.
But if there were any lingering worries that the Tigers were emphasizing their victory over the Wildcats too much, or that they were satisfied with their improvement from last season, senior Alyssa Hollins put them quickly to rest.
“I mean, we won two games last year,” Hollins said. “It’s a big deal and it means a lot to us. But we have five games left.”