COLUMBIA — Instead of relaxing and enjoying time with their families on Christmas Day, the Missouri women’s basketball team was at Mizzou Arena practicing in preparation for its game against North Texas.
“It kind of sucked,” senior Toy Richbow said to a chorus of laughs. “It wasn’t a surprise. We knew we were going to go home for (an early) Christmas and come back. I was pretty fortunate. I know a lot of teams that weren’t able to go home. I wasn’t really bothered. I knew what to expect being a senior. There’s certain things you’ve got to sacrifice if you want to win.”
But after a 71-44 victory over the visiting Mean Green on Monday night at Mizzou Arena, an undefeated December served as a late Christmas present for the Tigers.
“That sounds pretty good to me,” a pleasantly surprised Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “It’s hard to put anything on that. Obviously us having the opportunity to get our kids better, our depth stronger, that’s probably the more important thing going into conference play.”
When the final buzzer sounded and the Tigers celebrated their victory on the court, it concluded a 6-0 month.
“I don’t think anybody really paid attention to it,” junior RaeShara Brown said. “We just know we’re winning and that’s what we want to do. That’s the goal every night.”
The six-game winning streak came primarily against inferior opponents and five of the games were at home. Yet, for a team that is still trying to get everybody on the same page, a string of wins this long is no doubt a step in the right direction.
“We’ve got to continue to get continuity throughout our lineup,” Stein said. “I feel like we’re getting better in some areas. That rebounding sticks out to me. Our free throws are getting better. The rebounding thing, we’ve got to dominate the boards better than what we did. That’s the only concern I had coming out of this game.”
The Tigers were outrebounded 40-36 by the Mean Green.
With only two games remaining before Big 12 play starts and one of those games being against No. 15 Xavier, the Tigers still have plenty to work on. Heading into Monday’s game, Missouri ranks 10th in the Big 12 in scoring at 71.2 points per game and last in field goal percentage at 40 percent.
When Missouri gets into conference play, it will essentially be running through a gauntlet. Baylor, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas are all ranked. Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Iowa State are all in the receiving votes category.
The Tigers are battle-tested though. Missouri has gone on the road and amassed a 3-1 record away from Mizzou Arena. A one-point loss to Memphis and a seven-point defeat to then No. 9 Florida State are the only blemishes on a surprising 9-2 record.
During the month of December, Missouri won by an average of 27.2 points. With such easy victories, it’s tough to find benefits to playing in these types of games. Still, Stein insists it’s helpful to win these blowouts.
“People aren’t making it easy to begin with,” Stein said. “They’re making runs at us. We’re seeing different things. We’ve always seen a lot more full-court man stuff. We saw a lot more zones, traps tonight than we have in a while. Everybody gives you a different look. I think it prepares you down the road for whatever may come your way.”
Stein said the most important thing is the confidence boost her players get from their exceptional performance.
“Some people are really good and some people we still got to work on the confidence,” Stein said. “Our kids are sometimes their worst critics. That’s the one thing we deal with, but that’s also what makes them very coachable.”
Missouri’s next game is against Duquesne at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena.