COLUMBIA — Forwards Jessra Johnson and Christine Flores needed a wakeup call.
Johnson, the Missouri women’s basketball team’s leading scorer at 12.3 points per game, scored only six points during Saturday night’s loss to Iowa State. She didn’t score until nine minutes into the second half, well after the game was out of reach. Flores, third on the team at 9.4 points a game, registered only one point.
Tuesday night, Missouri coach Cindy Stein sent a message that was loud and clear. Johnson, normally a starter, didn’t hear her named called in pregame introductions against Colorado. Instead, she sat near the end of the bench. Flores didn’t enter until nearly 12 minutes into the game. And while Stein insisted the lack of minutes was because of defensive matchups, the pair responded with strong performances.
“I thought Jessra came off the bench really well,” Stein said. “She had a great attitude coming off the bench and did her deal.
“Jessra’s been doing a good job. It’s more of a defensive matchup. It wasn’t a punishment … Jessra knew she was going to play, regardless of starting or not, and she handled that extremely well.”
Johnson finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Flores had 11 points and two rebounds in Missouri’s 80-79 overtime loss at Mizzou Arena.
“I really like Jessra Johnson,” Colorado coach Kathy McConnell-Miller said. “Jessra can hit the open shot. She can post up. She’s strong and she’s very difficult for us to guard.”
Flores’ 11 points came in just eight minutes of playing time. When the Buffaloes made a big run to send the game into overtime, Flores was seen on the bench.
“Christine did a good job on the offensive end,” Stein said. “But she was getting in the way on defense. It was tough to have her in. You can always find her on offense. The chemistry was bad on defense, just because we were switching so much that she was going to get caught on a perimeter player.”
Johnson and Flores made their presence felt right away when they stepped on the floor. It wasn’t just the statistics the two post players put up, it was the intensity they brought to the floor. When Johnson entered with 14:38 to go in the first half, she snatched a defensive rebound and whipped an outlet pass up court. As the ball was passed around the perimeter, Johnson planted her self at the free-throw line, caught a pass and calmly sank a jump shot. Johnson recorded 10 points and six rebounds in 10 minutes of play before halftime.
“I feel like I came in and did my role,” Johnson said. “Got to the rim, got to the free-throw line.”
Flores made an early impact too. The first possession she was on the floor, Flores banked in a layup off the backboard, was fouled and hit the free throw to complete the three-point play. A few possessions later, the sophomore acrobatically flipped in an underhanded shot off the glass while falling over. Flores put up nine points while shooting five-of-five from the free-throw line in just five minutes on the floor before the break.
Next up for Missouri is a date with No. 3 Nebraska at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in Lincoln. For the Tigers to have any chance, the duo of Johnson and Flores will have to elevate their game once more.