COLUMBIA — Cary Shelton likes to break the mold.
It’s hard to ignore his unorthodox ways. Being a man coaching a women’s basketball team is one thing. Playing 14 players in the first half of a close game is another.
Shelton ended up using 15 Arkansas-Pine Bluff players before the final buzzer sounded Monday night in a 81-50 loss to Missouri at Mizzou Arena, often employing wholesale lineup changes. After two Tigers starters were injured in the first half, Missouri used only seven players for most of the second half, just under half the number the Golden Lions used. The fresh legs weren’t enough, though as Missouri pulled away in the second half.
Shelton said he normally uses 11 players but saw this game as a chance to play more.
“We knew they would be a little shorthanded with (Jessra) Johnson and Amanda (Hanneman) being out,” Shelton said. “We decided we just needed to get them up and down (the floor).”
Shelton’s strategy seemed to pay off before the break, with the Golden Lions leading for a majority of the first half.
“Certainly just trying to keep them on their toes and keep them off balance with the rotations coming in,” Shelton said. “We tried to throw a few things in each time we subbed the kids in, scheme-wise, and trying to disrupt their offense.”
Shelton said using 15 players does not affect his team’s chemistry and rhythm.
“It doesn’t affect them a whole lot," he said. "The girls are kind of used to it. We normally play 11 kids, so the girls are interchangeable and play multiple positions.”
Trying to coach against a team that uses 15 players in a game is a tough task, but Missouri coach Cindy Stein was confident throughout the game.
“We had them pretty well scouted,” Stein said. “I felt like we had a good sense of who they were trying to go to. We just needed to do a better job at times of handling that.”
Playing his entire bench is nothing new for Shelton. Neither is coaching women’s basketball.
“It’s awesome,” Shelton said. “The girls respond to us really well. The girls do what we ask them to do and they listen. They work really hard for us. Certainly, I don’t get in their way. I respect them. They respect me. I’m just glad to be around.”
The 39-year-old Shelton is in his first year at the helm of the Golden Lions after spending four years as an assistant with both the men’s and women’s programs.
“I’m certainly glad to have this opportunity to coach as a head coach,” Shelton said. “Kind of put my own stamp on things. Kind of do things the way I want to do.”
Shelton said there are differences between coaching men’s and women’s basketball.
“Girls are more fundamentally sound than the guys because they (the guys) can fly everywhere and dunk the ball," he said. "Guys play above the rim. Girls are getting to that point.”
After graduating from high school in 1988, Shelton spent time with the army before returning to school and receiving a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Arkansas State in 2005. Being in the army taught Shelton some lessons he has taken to the basketball court.
“Just discipline and understanding the task at hand and completing the task,” Shelton said. “Coming together as a team and fighting for a cause, fighting for a goal. We’re right where we want to be.”
After the game, Shelton praised the size and skill the Tigers possessed.
“They shot the ball towards the end when it counts,” Shelton said. “They’re going to do pretty well in the Big 12.”
The game against Missouri was the third game the Golden Lions had played against Big 12 competition. Arkansas-Pine Bluff also played Texas Tech and Iowa State earlier in the season. Shelton likes how these games prepare his team for play in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
“We’re playing against high-caliber teams,” Shelton said. “They most definitely expose your weaknesses. It gives us an opportunity to go in and fix it.”