COLUMBIA — The way it has struggled this season, it is difficult not to have sympathy for the Missouri women’s basketball team.
The Tigers stayed close against the No. 3 team in the country Saturday at Mizzou Arena, but after leading for much of the game, Missouri lost to undefeated Nebraska 82-78 in the annual Pink Zone game, which raises awareness for breast cancer.
Nebraska coach Connie Yori said she felt sorry for the Tigers, a team that has lost a number of close games this season.
“Those guys fought their rear ends off,” Yori said. "I feel bad for those guys."
The sentiment did little to cheer up the Tigers.
“You understand you hung with a top-five team in the nation,” Missouri senior Jessra Johnson said. “You understand you played well. But at the end of the day, it’s still a loss.”
Missouri coach Cindy Stein tried to find the positives.
“But I think we’ve got to feel good about where we are … We’re not very far away,” she said.
The biggest surprise for the Tigers was the way their offense played. After reaching historic lows offensively in their past two games, scoring 39 points against Iowa State and 33 at Kansas State, the Tigers looked like a different team against the Huskers (23-0,10-0).
“It lifts a little bit more off our shoulders,” Missouri senior Amanda Hanneman said about the offensive outburst. “I think we’re going to carry that into the next game.”
The Tigers' 38 points in the first half was more than they had against Kansas State. However, Missouri trailed 41-38 at halftime.
The Tigers didn’t let up in the second half. Shot after shot continued to fall for Missouri. The team's shooting suddenly was a forgotten issue. RaeShara Brown, Christine Flores, Hanneman and Johnson hit big shot after big shot. With less than three minutes to play, the Tigers led by six points.
It looked like the Tigers (11-13, 1-10) would finally win a close game. And this wasn’t just any game. This was a game against a team considered to be one of the best in the country.
Then, the Tigers offense fell into a lull. Missouri failed to score in the final 3:15. At that point, the Tigers problem was not missing shots. The issue was controlling the ball. The Tigers turned over the ball on their final five possessions.
“I don’t think it’s a secret, in the last two minutes, we fumbled a lot of plays on offense,” Stein said. “Our confidence in those scenarios has not been strong.”
Lack of communication certainly played a factor in the waning minutes.
“I think we just had some miscommunication on the floor,” Johnson said. “You try to do everything right the last minute. We practice those situations, we just didn’t come through.”
Johnson led the Tigers with 21 points, while Kelsey Griffin led the Huskers with 28.
The Tigers will now have to wait for another chance at a victory. Missouri has a week off, before they play at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Iowa State. Stein said the break should benefit her team.
“I think it’s a needed break for us,” Stein said. “I think it will be good for us, honestly. I think our kids need a mental break, as well as a physical break.”