Experience and size helps MU women's basketball team find success

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 | 11:30 p.m. CST; updated 12:32 a.m. CST, Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Missouri's Christine Flores moves to shoot against Tennessee-Martin defender Heather Butler. Flores tied her school record with seven blocked shots in the Tigers' victory.

COLUMBIA — With the Missouri women's basketball team leading 26-12 early in the second half, Tennessee-Martin freshman Heather Butler dribbled the ball up the court and drove into the lane, attempting to surprise the Tigers' defense.

But as Butler stopped just short of the rim for a quick shot, Missouri junior Christine Flores pounced and slammed the ball straight towards the Skyhawks' bench.

The block was one of seven for Flores in the Tigers' 53-30 victory Tuesday at Mizzou Arena. The mark tied her own school record. Defense prevailed for the Tigers as they improved to 4-4.

Although sophomore Sydney Crafton led the Tigers with nine points going into halftime, it was Missouri's defense that had Tiger fans applauding at the 20-minute buzzer. Tennessee-Martin had only scored five points 16 minutes into the game and ended the half with 12.

“We put a big emphasis on that (defense), and we decided we were going to switch everything," Flores said. "They’re great outside shooters. We just wanted to contain them outside and bring them inside, so that helped a lot.”

Missouri's starting lineup had a 2-inch average height advantage over the Skyhawks, forcing the visitors to try to get close to the basket. But the Tigers' physical inside play prevented Tennessee-Martin from finding any rhythm near the rim and allowed Missouri to win the rebounding battle in the first half 26-16.

Defense saved the Tigers' struggling offense, which only shot 42 percent.

“The one thing coach tells us we can control is our defense," senior point guard RaeShara Brown said. "When your shots are not falling, you gotta make some, so the defense made us get easy buckets.”

Forty-four rebounds and 12 blocks allowed Missouri to move the ball up court quickly for easy transition points.

First-year Missouri coach Robin Pingeton has stressed all season that her team needs more experience and practice time, but the Tigers looked like veterans compared to the youth in the starting lineup for Tennessee-Martin. The Skyhawks started four freshmen and one senior.

Brown and seniors Shakara Jones and Jasmyn Otote started for Missouri. Flores and sophomore Sydney Crafton, who recorded her first career double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, rounded out the MU starting five.

"We need to find another piece to that rotation to take some pressure off Shak, Christine and Rae," Pingeton said. "Someone's going to rise to the top as we get a couple more practices under our belt."

Missouri's home stand should give Pingeton enough time to fill in the starting rotation. The Tigers are coming off a seven-game road trip to begin the season, which Pingeton sees as a plus for her team.

"It (the road trip) doesn't candy-coat anything. You find out exactly where you're at," Pingeton said. "It prepares you for the best conference (Big 12) in the country. It's not going to get any easier."

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