KANSAS CITY — The Texas women’s basketball team was loose. Some of the players bobbed their heads to the music in pregame warm-ups. They were smiling, laughing and giving each other high-fives.
The mood was different on the other end of the floor. The Missouri fans were loud, but the Tigers were tight, seemingly going through the motions.
It showed early in the game.
Texas came out strong, and Missouri couldn’t keep up.
Less than 12 minutes into the game, the Longhorns had a 17-point lead and never looked back. They went on to defeat Missouri 79-66 in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. The Tigers finished the season with a 13-18 record.
“I don’t think we were flat,” Missouri head coach Robin Pingeton said. “Maybe locked up a little bit. Maybe afraid of failure. Afraid of this being the last game they ever play. There’s a fine line between playing to win and not playing to lose.”
When RaeShara Brown drove to the basket with three minutes to play and Missouri down by 12, there was still hope for the Tigers. They had been down 12 with less than 2:30 to play in their first meeting with Texas on Jan. 8 before coming back and winning the game in overtime.
But Brown was tripped up on her way to the rim. She missed the shot and no foul was called. Pingeton squatted on the sideline and shook her head. That’s the kind of night it was for the Tigers. There was no comeback this time.
After the game, seniors Brown and Shakara Jones couldn’t hide their tears in the postgame press conference. Brown, who led the Tigers with 18 points, had shown signs of frustration throughout the game, smiling sarcastically when calls went against her or one of her teammates.
“When you’re talking about potentially the last game of your season, you want it so bad. You know how important every possession is —” she said before her tears caused her to stop.
Early in the game, the Longhorns attacked the basket, consistently beating Tiger defenders off the dribble for easy baskets. But even the tough shots were falling. A Yvonne Anderson fadeaway over two Tigers found the bottom of the net after hitting the rim twice.
“Gosh, out of the gates, they were shooting probably 80 percent. You’ve got to give them credit.” Pingeton said.
The Longhorns never hit the 80 percent mark, but they did shoot 59 percent in the first half and took a 48-33 lead into halftime.
The Tigers came out with more energy in the second half. After Brown hit a 3-pointer to cap a 6-0 run to start the half, Texas took a timeout. Brown clinched her fists, screaming, welcoming the bench players who had flocked around her in excitement.
“They’re such a feisty team. They never give up. They keep coming back,” Texas coach Gail Goestenkors said.
The Missouri defense played better and the Longhorns cooled off, but 14 offensive rebounds by Texas in the second half never gave Missouri a chance to get closer than eight points.
The win was important for Texas, whose postseason future is still unknown.
“We’re trying to make the NCAA tournament right now,” said Kathleen Nash, who led the Longhorns with 16 points. “We have a lot of urgency because of that.”