COLUMBIA — Head to a Missouri women’s basketball game and you will see Christine Flores stick out like a sore thumb. Not in a bad way though. It’s for all the right reasons. At 6-foot-3, the sophomore forward from San Antonio demands attention.
“Height gives anybody an advantage,” junior forward Shakara Jones said. “But it gives her an advantage because when she puts her long arms up, she’s able to deflect a lot of shots and able to change a lot of shots as well.”
Duquesne (10-4) at Missouri (9-2)
WHEN: 11:30 a.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM
In 2009 though, Flores is garnering opponents’ interest for more than just her size. After averaging just 4.3 points a game as a freshman, she has upped her production to 7.9 points by scoring at least 13 a game in her past six outings. And while her increased impact for the Tigers has come as a surprise to Flores, Stein never doubted her ability for one second.
“Honestly, her success has not been a surprise at all,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “When we watched her play in high school and in the summers, we knew. Great big player with great hands, great athleticism. She’s doing everything we thought she’d do. We’d actually thought she’d do it a little earlier, but obviously she’s had some injuries. She’s finally getting that conditioning, that shape. She’s just blossoming now.”
Flores hurt her right ankle while coming down with a rebound during a state semifinal game her junior year in high school. She played on it her senior season and then had surgery to repair the damage. Flores had a second surgery on that same ankle and it’s been a long process in returning to 100 percent.
“It’s been tough,” Flores said. “Last year, I played in pain. This year, I started off in pain, but now it’s gotten a lot better. My second surgery helped a lot.”
With all the ankle taping and ice sessions aiding her rehab, Flores is starting to live up to the potential Stein envisioned during the recruiting process.
“When you get a 6-foot-3 girl that has great hands like that, I mean that’s just hard to find," Stein said. "We just loved her demeanor. She’s just a happy go lucky kid. Very positive. (She) was always encouraging her teammates. She’s very well liked. She’s the kind of person you wanted on your team.”
Leading the team in blocks with 16, Flores has made an impact at both ends of the floor. Stein said having an additional inside presence helps the Tigers match up against bigger teams in the Big 12. When Missouri plays against Baylor and its 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner, Flores will certainly provide a lift whether it’s starting or coming off the bench.
“She definitely has an impact on the defensive end because she’s a tough target to get over and she moves,” Stein said. “She helps us control the boards. That’s a big part of our offense, is getting the boards and going.”
Along with Jessra Johnson and Shakara Jones and several other post players, Flores is part of a strong Missouri frontcourt. With the competition for playing time, the competition in practice has helped the Tigers.
“It’s really tough,” Flores said. “But you just got to go as hard as you can every practice to make sure you’re doing better than the person that’s right in front of you.”
Competition is nothing new for Flores. She started swimming competitively at the age of five and was also an avid volleyball player. After playing basketball and volleyball her first two years of high school, Flores chose to focus on basketball.
“Basketball was more competitive, and I had more fun in it,” Flores said. “Volleyball was more of a relaxed sport for me. I could just have fun, and it was something instead of basketball, so I could get my mind off it for a while.”
The decision has panned out for both Flores and the Missouri team. Off to a 9-2 start to the season, Missouri would not be where it is without the contributions of Flores. Heading into a game at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena against Duquesne, a team Flores punished last season for 17 points in just 19 minutes of playing time, Missouri looks to push its win streak to seven.
“She does tremendous things,” Stein said. “She’s a great personality to coach and she’s only going to get better.”