COLUMBIA — In year’s past, the Missouri women’s basketball team would have folded.
On Saturday, the Tigers fell behind 21-6 early to a Duquesne team (10-5) that knocked off No. 20-Pittsburgh on the road on Tuesday.
In year’s past, that would have been enough to run the Tigers into a frustrating loss.
Not this year.
After the slow start, the Tigers went on an 18-5 run and went on to beat the Dukes 72-66 at Mizzou Arena.
“Last year, we just didn’t have the confidence. They were still a little unexperienced where things didn’t come naturally,” coach Cindy Stein said. “(Now)when things don’t go well, instead of getting down on themselves, you really see them responding and getting tougher.”
Senior Jessra Johnson has noticed a considerable difference in this year’s team.
“Just a lot of toughness,” Johnson said. “That’s something we’ve been working on for the last couple of seasons, just being able to come back whenever we hit a wall or things aren’t falling our way.”
The Tigers trailed until Jasmyn Otote, a guard who averages just 10 minutes a game, made a layup and was fouled to tie the game at 34. Otote played 16 minutes and made an important 3-pointer in the second half. Also, despite standing at just 5-foot-9, Otote had six rebounds in the game.
“Jasmyn’s been practicing pretty well. She’s had a couple good games,” Stein said. “Now she’s playing a lot more consistent in practice. You see it’s paying off in games.”
Senior Amanda Hanneman has seen Otote’s role change this season. Since Hanneman and Jessra Johnson were suspended in December, Otote has increased her leadership.
“Jas (Otote) has shown a lot more confidence this year, especially taking it to the basket, and leadership as well,” Hanneman said. “When we were gone, I think she took another role as a leader and I think it shows on the court.”
Since being reinstated, Hanneman and Johnson have come off the bench and have seen decreased playing time. Players such as Otote have benefited from this with increased playing time, but the impact of Hanneman and Johnson is undeniable. The Tigers (10-2) are a far better team with those two on the court.
On Saturday that was obvious. The pair were not on the court for much of the 21-6 run to start the game. Once in the game, Hanneman hit three 3-pointers to key the first half rally, while Johnson pitched in with eight first half points. For the first time since being suspended, Hanneman and Johnson were made available to the media after the game. Stein was particularly satisfied with Johnson’s defense and passing game.
“She had some great defensive plays today,” Stein said. “She sees the floor so well for us on the offensive end.”
In Hanneman and Johnson't first game action on Monday against North Texas, Hanneman seemed to be a little bit too excited on the court. She shot an uncharacteristic 2-for-10 from the floor. Hanneman said Stein referred to her as a Flinstone character because her feet seemed to be going a mile a minute.
“This game I just calmed myself down and tried to get my head right for the game,” Hanneman said.
This year’s Tigers team appears to be gelling at the right time—right as Big 12 play is nearing. The increased depth the Tigers have now that players such as Otote have seen significant playing time should come into play when conference play begins.
Before MU plays their first conference game against Colorado on Jan. 9, the Tigers have one big non-conference game looming. The Tigers face No. 15-Xavier at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Mizzou Arena.
After the big comeback on Saturday against the Dukes, the Tigers should have a lot of confidence. It appears this year’s Tiger team won’t throw in the cards when adversity hits.
Stein said. “This team’s a fighting team. They want to come back and compete.”