Coach hasn't given up on MU women's basketball season yet

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST
Missouri coach Cindy Stein instructs her players as they head back onto the court after a timeout in a January nonconference game.

COLUMBIA —Missouri women’s basketball coach Cindy Stein seemed due for some success this year. After three straight disappointing seasons, the Tigers coach was looking for her team to perform at a high level.

To put things mildly, things haven’t gone Stein’s way.

Tuesday's game

Colorado (12-13, 2-10 Big 12) at Missouri (11-14, 1-11)
WHEN: 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
Take a Kid to the Game Day. All children will receive free
admission with a paid adult ticket and free growing charts will be given away at the game.

The Tigers have struggled again in Big 12 Conference play and have lost 12 of their past 13 games. Shortly after the season, Steins’ contract is set to expire, and with the way her team has performed this season, many are speculating about how much time she has left at Missouri.

But Stein says the pressure to win now isn’t any different than any other year.

“All coaches put a lot of pressure on themselves every day. Really, it’s nothing new,” Stein said. “It’s draining, it always is. You always need to take a huge sabbatical after you get done. But it’s every coach, regardless of what your record is.”

Stein said she has not had discussions about a contract extension with MU administration during the season.

Not all of the blame should be placed on Stein for the Tigers' struggles this season.

From the first day of the season, luck wasn’t on the Tigers side. During Missouri’s first day of practice, the Tigers lost starting point guard Bekah Mills to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. In December, the Tigers received national attention in a negative way. Seniors Jessra Johnson and Amanda Hanneman were involved in an off-campus fight with a male MU cheerleader that drew coverage from news outlets around the country. In January, the Tigers lost Bailey Gee to a torn ACL.

Stein has watched her team endure excruciating losses against Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, but has continued to keep her composure after games. So far, Stein has been able to handle herself in a positive manner after these losses. Instead of placing blame on her players, Stein generally places the blame on herself, deflecting it away from the players that didn’t get the job done on the court.

It’s these types of things that keep the players on Steins' side. Some are closer to Stein than others.

“I’ve known Coach Stein since fifth grade, so our relationship is kind of close,” said junior Shakara Jones, who frequently attended Stein’s youth basketball camps growing up.  

Even with these close relationships, losing can take its toll. But the team isn’t harping on the misfortunes it has endured this season.

“I’m not a person to go off bad or good luck,” senior Toy Richbow said. “I just feel like certain things happen for a reason.”

To change their misfortunes, the Tigers recruiting process must be able to bring in upper-tier talent. The uncertainty of Stein’s contract makes the recruiting battles even tougher.  Stein says that she recruits women that want to come to Columbia, not because of the coach, but because they love what Missouri has to offer.

“You sell Missouri. That’s what you do all the time,” Stein said about recruiting.

Stein knows all too well about the difficulties of recruiting. Texas A&M leading scorer junior Danielle Adams was set to attend MU before attending Jefferson College for two years because of academic problems. Afterward, Adams decided to go to Texas A&M. While the Tigers are 1-11 in conference play this season, the Tigers have lost late in games a number of times. It makes one wonder where the Tigers would be with another playmaker such as Adams.

“The hardest thing about seeing Danielle Adams at Texas A&M is that I love that kid,” Stein said. “Is she an impact player? Absolutely … Obviously she would’ve had a huge impact, but I still feel pretty good about this group.”

Unfortunately for Stein, that group hasn’t performed for her this season. At times, the Tigers have shown flashes of brilliance, as they did when they nearly knocked off an undefeated Nebraska team. But at other times, the Tigers have been dismal. Like when they scored 33 points at Kansas State. Or when they scored only 12 points in the first half at Iowa State. Both tied or set an all-time low for the program.

Those lows don't reflect well on Stein. While her 12 years at Missouri haven’t always gone smoothly, the ability to stay at one school for that long is impressive. The commitment and passion Stein has for Missouri women’s basketball is obvious. But in today’s world, winning usually takes precedence.

Stein is not quite ready to give in on the season, which is nearing its end. The Tigers (11-14) play their second-to-last home game against Colorado at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Mizzou Arena. Stein said she is unsure what will come out of this season.

“Maybe our role this year is to learn strength and perseverance. I don’t know,” Stein said. “Every year, your team has to learn something. There’s usually a huge lesson that you’ve learned. I don’t know what it is yet, but hopefully it is how to win the Big 12 tournament in four days.”

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