COLUMBIA — When given the chance to shine, Christine Flores didn’t shy away from the spotlight.
Making her first start of the year, in place of the suspended Jessra Johnson, and only the third of her career at Missouri, Flores delivered a dominating performance. The sophomore forward from San Antonio had a season-high 16 points and added a career-high 12 rebounds in Missouri’s 71-32 victory against Murray State on Sunday afternoon at Mizzou Arena.
“Christine is someone we feel just keeps getting better and better,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “She has tremendous hands; terrific player.”
Flores’ double-double was the first of her career. Flores nearly reached a triple-double, recording a Missouri single-game, record-tying seven blocked shots. Amanda Lassiter accomplished the feat against Western Kentucky in 1999, as did Stretch James against Southwest Missouri State in 2003.
“Oh I didn’t even know that,” Flores said. “Wow. That’s new to me. That’s really hard to grasp.”
Flores left the game to a standing ovation from the crowd and chest bumps and high fives from her teammates.
“I thought she was going to get a triple-double there,” Stein said. “I didn’t know she was that close. I know there was a huge groan when I took her out. I didn’t know she had that many blocked shots. I knew she had quite a few.”
Flores has brought her production to a whole new level the past few games. After averaging just two points per game through the first five games of the season, Flores has averaged 12.3 points in the past 4 games.
“I’ve said this before about Christine,” Stein said. “She’s going to be a great player here. She’s just going to get better and better, and I think that you see that she can do so many things.”
Flores is humble, constantly deflecting praise over to her teammates. Still, she does see the improvements in her game.
“Stats tell it,” Flores said. “I’ve gotten more playing time. I’ve been practicing harder. I’m more conditioned. It’s easier to run up and down the court and then be able produce on both ends when you’re shape.”
The well-conditioned Flores can thank one of Stein’s rules. If a player doesn’t get 20 minutes in a game, she has to do extra cardio workouts. Before Sunday’s game, Flores had never reached the 20-minute plateau this season. After playing 23 minutes against Murray State, Flores was asked if that meant no extra cardio. After letting out a laugh, Flores responded: “I might still do it. I still need it.”
On Saturday, when Stein told Flores she would be starting, Flores was admittedly nervous, and with good reason.
“I’ve never started at Mizzou Arena,” Flores said. “So it’s kind of a big deal for me. I just know I needed to be solid and to move my feet on defense because that’s the one thing coach Stein always tells me to do.”
Starting in place of Johnson, the Tigers' leading scorer at 14.1 points per game, is no easy task. Johnson and fellow senior Amanda Hanneman were suspended indefinitely after being arrested and charged with third-degree assault as a result of a fight early Friday morning.
Asked if there was any added pressure starting in Johnson’s place, Flores responded: “No, I knew somebody would step up along the lines. I didn’t feel any personal pressure. I felt pressure starting, that’s a big deal. But not to cover Jessra. Nobody can play Jessra’s position and be just like her.”
With Flores’ play, however, it sure seemed like she could cover for the loss of Johnson.
“I think that Christine has learned to embrace her opportunities and her moments,” junior guard RaeShara Brown said. “She’s making the most out of them, whatever chance she gets. You’ve seen Christine come in five minutes and score 10 points or starting she comes in and scores 16 points. I think she’s just learned to take advantage of her opportunities every chance she gets.”
The Tigers (7-2) have eight days off before they take on Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 21 at Mizzou Arena.