COLUMBIA — RaeShara Brown got a screen from Shakara Jones and had an open look at a 3-pointer. She brought her arms above her head, but she wasn't about to shoot. Jones had rolled to the basket and was open. A bullet pass led Jones perfectly to the basket for an easy layup.
The layup gave the Tigers a 36-19 lead in the first half of the Missouri women's basketball team's 82-73 win against Alabama-Birmingham on Wednesday night at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers' offense dominated the first half, using 14 assists to score 47 points and take a 17-point lead into halftime.
For a scoring offense that entered the game tied for last in the Big 12 at 61.2 points per game, the 47-point outburst was a surprise to say the least. The Tigers kept the ball moving on offense, consistently passing up good shots, making the extra pass and getting easy layups. It led to a 69 percent field goal percentage in the half.
"It was fun to watch the ball movement," Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. "You haven't seen a lot of that out of our team. I think we did a tremendous job being an inside-out team."
Whenever Jones and Christine Flores got the ball on the block, the Blazers doubled-teamed them. When the ball was passed back out to the perimeter, it usually found its way back inside. Flores tied a career high with 28 points. Jones added 17.
"We have been practicing on getting low and pinning our man," Flores said of the post players' increased success in the paint. "We've been standing with our feet together. A wide base keeps us balanced and we're able to go up stronger."
The Tigers hadn't been sharing the ball well this season. Their 12.2 assists per game were lowest in the Big 12 entering Wednesday's game. They surpassed that total in the first half and ended with 19 for the game. Brown led the team with 12 assists, eight coming in the first half. She credits the number of assists to a growing team chemistry.
"We're just learning each other," Brown said. "Where the open pass is going to be, where each other's spots like to be our sweet spots. We're seeing the floor better, so we're able to make that extra pass."
Although Brown scored 13 points, she was one of only a few Tigers that didn't have a great night shooting. She was 3-of-11 from the field. Along with fueling the offense with assists, Brown contributed in another way. She was the main reason a full-court, man-to-man press put on by the Blazers for most of the game had little success.
"I thought it really wore on Rae, but I thought she handled it well," Pingeton said. "They were on her. They turned her at least three times before she got the ball over half-court. That just takes a toll for 40 minutes. Overall, our poise against the full-court pressure has improved tremendously. We practice that every day."
Although the press had little success, the Blazers chipped into the lead in the second half but never got closer than nine points. The Blazers played well offensively, too. Four players scored in double figures. Amber Jones led the team with 21 points.
Missouri improves to 8-4 with their fifth straight win. The Tigers have seemed to play better than the previous game every time they take the floor during the winning streak, but Pingeton is always finding things her team can do better.
"There were a lot of breakdowns in the second half that were a little disappointing," she said.