COLUMBIA - If a team can’t get up to play a hated rival, something is wrong.
Then again, plenty is wrong with the Missouri women’s basketball program these days.
With Missouri drawing 3,179 fans, the largest crowd of the season, and the hated Kansas Jayhawks in town, the Tigers looked sluggish in the first half of a 61-59 loss Saturday at Mizzou Arena. While the Tigers played better in the second half, the lackluster start was puzzling, especially considering it was a home game against a fierce rival.
Meanwhile, the usual buzz surrounding a MU/KU game was obvious before tipoff. A scattering of blue shirts in the crowd showed off the Jayhawks' following, but the black and gold dominated the crowd.
For much of the first half, the Tigers failed to keep their fans entertained. The Tigers shot just 32 percent in the half. Some of the shots failed to hit the rim, drawing noticeable jeers from some in the crowd. If it weren’t for the Missouri band, there would have been an eerie silence in the building during timeouts and dead balls. Even with the less-than-stellar first half performance, the Tigers trailed just 30-26 at the break.
“Our last two road games, we have been really good out of the gate,” Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “To get off to a great start (gave us) a lot of confidence.”
Missouri coach Cindy Stein said she wasn’t paying attention to how quiet the crowd was in the first half.
“Honestly, we don’t rely on the crowd to give us energy,” Stein said. “We were pretty focused on what we needed to do at that point. I don’t think that it was a factor.”
In the second half, things changed. A plethora of KU turnovers kept the Tigers in the game, and essentially the crowd. While silence controlled the first half, the rivalry took over in the second. Each call that went the Jayhawks way drew moans, while every Tigers basket caused the fans to go into a frenzy.
“The crowd had great energy,” junior RaeShara Brown said. “I think it provided a lot of energy for our team. But we feed off of each other, at the same point.”
Late in the second half, the Tigers tied the game on two different occasions. At one point, the crowd rousing “MIZ-ZOU” chant rang through the arena. Each time the Tigers seemed to make a comeback, Kansas was able to answer with a clutch shot of its own.
“I think that’s always tough mentally, but I don’t think I saw our players ever quit,” Stein said about the clutch shots. “I don’t think I ever saw them not think they could win the game. That’s the key for us.”
Even with the lackluster performance, one shot could have changed everything. Despite Kansas answering every Tigers' charge, Missouri still had a chance to win the game on its final shot. With the crowd on its feet, Amanda Hanneman shot a contested three-pointer as time expired, but it missed. Moans once again could be heard throughout Mizzou Arena.
Tigers senior Jessra Johnson led the Tigers with 16 points, while Jayhawks freshman Carolyn Davis led the Jayhawks with 20 points.
While the schedule doesn’t get any easier in the Big 12 for the Tigers (11-9, 1-6), Stein said she is not worried about her team quitting.
“I’d be really worried about this team if they didn’t have the fight that they do in them,” Stein said. “I’d be worried if I thought they had bad attitudes. That’s when you just know it’s not going to get better. With this group, I really feel that it’s going to get better. I think they have strong character.”
The Tigers know that if the Hanneman shot goes in, the story is much different. But right now, the story seems to be rewritten often.
Brown said. “The balls not falling our way right now, but eventually it will.”