COLUMBIA - The Missouri women's basketball team's tallest player might also be its best shooter.
Three-point shooting has not been a strength for Missouri this season. The Tigers are shooting 25 percent from beyond the arc, which is the worst in the Big 12 Conference. But Christine Flores, a 6-foot-3 junior forward, isn't part of the problem. She leads the team with a 46 percent shooting average (11-of-24) from 3-point range.
Alabama-Birmingham Blazers (7-4)
at Missouri Tigers (7-4)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
Flores spent most of her first two seasons at Missouri playing in the post, but when Robin Pingeton took over as head coach this season, things changed. Pingeton wants her post players to be able to play on the perimeter and encourages them to shoot 3-pointers when they are open.
"We like versatility," Pingeton said. "I think that's really important, especially when you run the kind of motion offense that we do. I think it can create some matchup problems. There's not always fours and fives that can step up and guard on the perimeter."
So Flores spent the offseason working on her shot. Her size has resulted in her spending most of her basketball career in the paint, but Flores has always felt like she was a good perimeter shooter and never shied away from taking 3-pointers, even in high school.
"It wasn't recommended, but I did it anyway," Flores said with a laugh. "I shot from the outside in high school, but it was mostly inside because the height in high school wasn't there. I was obviously one of the biggest players."
Missouri basketball fans have seen the impact versatile post players can have in a motion offense. In 2009, the Missouri men's team used a motion offense similar to the one Pingeton's team runs. Undersized forwards DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons showed their ability to step out and hit shots from the perimeter, which was a big reason the Tigers were able to reach the Elite Eight that year.
Once Big 12 play begins, Flores won't usually be the tallest player on the court. She, along with 6-foot-2 teammate Shakara Jones, will likely have to hit some outside jump shots if the Tigers hope to compete in the conference.
But conference play doesn't start until Jan. 8. In the meantime, all of the Tigers are working on their outside shots and have shown signs of improvement. In their last game, a Dec. 21 win over California-Riverside, the Tigers sank a season-high eight 3-pointers, including four by Flores and one by Jones. The two combined to shoot 5-of-6 from beyond the arc.
"I see it in practice, we're starting to shoot the ball with more consistency," Pingeton said. "Is it where it needs to be? Absolutely not. But it's so much better than it was even a month ago."
The Tigers hope Flores can continue her hot shooting when they take on the Alabama-Birmingham Blazers on Wednesday at Mizzou Arena. The Blazers and Tigers hold identical 7-4 records. The Blazers had won five straight games before an overtime loss against Illinois State in their most recent contest.
The Tigers are on a four-game winning streak, but after a slow start in their game a week ago, Pingeton isn't taking anything for granted.
"The two games that you worry most about as a coach are the ones right after Christmas break and the ones right before Christmas break," Pingeton said. "Those are just really hard games. We're not in a position where we can afford slippage, mentally or physically."