COLUMBIA — Her season started slow, but Shak is back.
Senior forward Shakara Jones has been a mark of consistency throughout her career on the Missouri women's basketball team. Through her first three years, she had scored around 10 points a game each year.
Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks (4-3)
at Missouri Tigers (3-4)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM
TV: Fox Sports Midwest
TOY DRIVE: The Missouri women's basketball team is teaming up with the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation to collect toys for Mid-Missouri children this December. Fans who bring a new toy to Missouri's next four home games (Tuesday against UT-Martin, Saturday against UMKC, Dec. 19 against New Jersey IT and Dec. 21 against California-Riverside) will receive free admission to the contest.
After an 11-point, 14-rebound performance in Memphis to open the season, it looked like Jones was well on her way to another productive year. But in the next three and a half games combined, Jones had just 12 points and seven rebounds.
It was during the second half of the fifth game of the season against Georgia Tech that Jones snapped out of her slump. She had 10 points and three rebounds in the half and has been back to her old self ever since, scoring 26 points and grabbing 12 rebounds over the next two games.
"We still had a chance to come back and win that game (against Georgia Tech)," Jones said. "I just think me stepping up as a senior and running those thoughts through my head is kind of what got me going."
During the past three seasons, Jones had gotten used to playing a certain style of basketball at Missouri. It took time, but she's starting to gain more confidence in new coach Robin Pingeton's system.
"With the first couple games you're always trying to get a feel for things," Jones said. "It's kind of like a transition from the past three years, so I think I'm starting to get comfortable with everything."
After Jones' slow start, Pingeton knew Jones wasn't playing up to her capability yet, so the two talked.
"We had a great conversation in the Virgin Islands about where we're at as a team and where we want to go and what we need out of her," Pingeton said. "And I just really challenged her every day to come out and be a warrior for us, and everything else will take care of itself. I think she's really played that way."
The Tigers haven't had a lot of team success the past couple of years. As a senior, Jones wants badly to right the ship and lead her team to success. She might have been trying too hard.
"She's such a driven young lady," Pingeton said. "She's got a lot of perfectionist in her. When things wouldn't go her way, it weighed heavy on her. We just talked about being able to move on quicker than what she had been. We talked about everything she brings to the court for us, which is so much in so many different areas. I think she's really embraced this leadership role that she's in this year."
Despite the slow start, Jones is leading the team with her 54 percent shooting average. Moving forward, Pingeton would like to see Jones be more aggressive offensively.
"It's hard right now," Pingeton said. "They're playing a lot of minutes. It takes wear and tear on your body a little bit. We need to get her consistently playing as aggressive as she can, but that'll come."
Jones appears to be returning to form just in time for the first home stand of the year. After playing seven games away from Mizzou Arena versus some stiff competition, the Tigers come home to play an easier stretch of games. But Pingeton says the team won't take anyone lightly.
"These are not easy teams for us," Pingeton said. "We're not a program that has established ourselves yet in that upper echelon. When you're as young and inexperienced as we are, and you lack the depth that we do, you better believe that every single time we step between the lines we gotta bring it."
"A game is a game," she said. "No matter who you play, you can't take them light cause this is college basketball."
Missouri is a young team, but its opponent Tuesday, Tennessee-Martin, makes the Tigers look like a team of polished veterans. The Skyhawks have nine freshman, two sophomores, three juniors and one senior. The players combine for a total of just three years of experience at the Division I level, making them one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the nation.
UT Martin (4-3) is forced to rely on its young players for production. Heather Butler leads the Skyhawks with 20.3 points per game, and fellow freshman guard Jasmine Newsome averages 17.4 points per game.
The Skyhawks will be up against a Missouri team that is excited to finally be home.
"It's time to be back home and show our fans what we have," Jones said.