COLUMBIA — The Missouri women’s basketball team knew facing No. 16 Xavier would not be easy.
Xavier has three starters who are at least 6-feet tall, including its two leading scorers, 6-foot-6 junior Ta’Shia Phillips and 6-foot-5 junior Amber Harris.
Meanwhile, the Tigers tallest starter, 6-foot-3 sophomore Christine Flores, has been coming on strong since getting the chance to start in mid-December. Flores has averaged 14 points per game in the past eight games. In Tuesday night’s game at Mizzou Arena, Flores continued to impress, leading the Tigers with 19 points. However, Phillips and Harris led the Musketeers to a 68-60 win over the Tigers.
“They’re ridiculous,” coach Cindy Stein said about the Musketeers' post players. “Especially No.11 (Harris), she’s just so smooth out there, handles the ball like a guard. She’s very talented.”
So far this season, the Tigers had not faced a team with such a distinct size advantage.
“They have long arms. We haven’t really gone against (players) that tall,” Flores said.“It was tough, but you just got to get around them, you can’t shoot over them.”
Despite the loss, there were some positives for the Tigers. Their post play, including that of Flores, kept the game relatively close. Harris and Phillips were held to a modest 13 points apiece. Also, despite being severely outsized, the Tigers outrebounded the Musketeers 37-35.
“That’s probably the only disappointing stat that I see,” Xavier coach Kevin McGuff said. “We kind of pride ourselves on rebounding. Missouri worked very, very hard on the glass.”
McGuff has been impressed with the play of Flores since entering the Tigers' starting lineup.
“We’ve watched them on tape and she’s played really, really well. She’s come on and really made the most of her opportunity,” McGuff said.“I thought we did a poor job at times of allowing her to get great position, and anytime that we did that, she made us pay.”
The loss ended Missouri's seven-game winning streak. Stein said the loss will help the Tigers (10-3) down the road.
“You learn so much from those games,” Stein said. “And I think that’s the biggest thing coming out of this is that make sure we’re learning a lot from this game. Even though it may be a loss, we just got to make sure we’re propelling ourselves forward.”
The game was the Tigers' final nonconference game of the season. Except for Xavier and Florida early in the season, Missouri has played a relatively weak schedule. But Stein said she's not sure tougher opponents would have helped the Tigers prepare for play in the Big 12 Conference where seven teams are ranked.
“I think these games are always valuable, but you know, did this game make Bailey Gee better? Did it make BreAnna Brock better?” Stein asked about two of her players that did not enter Tuesday’s game. “Well no, but North Texas did … It’s one thing or the other.”
Missouri plays its first conference game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Colorado. The Buffaloes are expected to finish towards the bottom of the conference standings this season, but after a few tough seasons themselves, the Tigers aren’t taking anything for granted.
“I think we can hang with them,” senior Amanda Hanneman said about the tough Big 12 teams. “But I think we’re tired of hanging with them. I think, just like Coach Stein said, we’re at the door, we just need to bust through it.”