COLUMBIA — Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale wasn’t concerned about her basketball team having to play just two days after getting blown out by No.1-ranked Baylor at home.
Maybe she wasn’t concerned because she believed her team would play better. Or maybe it was that the Sooners were going to be playing a team that had not won a conference game in seven tries, the Missouri Tigers.
But the Tigers came out aggressively, especially on defense, contesting every Sooner shot and causing early turnovers.
“I wasn’t really worried about the turnaround at all until the official threw up the ball, and I saw our first possession, and then I was real worried about it,” Coale said.
Missouri (10-9, 0-8 Big 12) battled through 14 lead changes, 13 of which came in the second half, but in the end, fell short in its bid to upset Oklahoma, (13-6, 5-3 Big 12) 62-59.
“They didn’t play like a team that was down because they haven’t won a conference game yet,” Coale said of the Tigers. “They played like a team that felt like they expected to win.
Missouri jumped out to an early 16-9 lead to begin the game by smothering the Sooners most potent offensive weapon, Aaryn Ellenberg. Freshman guard Kyley Simmons shadowed the Sooner star all game, only allowing her to score 2 points on 1-of-9 shooting in 40 minutes. Ellenberg had been averaging 17.8 points per game and was the reigning Big 12 player of the week.
Without its leading scorer able to shoot effectively, the Oklahoma offense was only able to muster 11 points through the first 12 minutes of the game, and Missouri was able to take a 3 point lead into half.
“Ellenberg is so much better than what she did tonight,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “I think Kyley did a tremendous job on her. I think going through the games that we’ve gone through has helped them understand how hard we have to guard in this league.”
Unfortunately for the Tigers, their defensive effort wasn’t enough to shut down Oklahoma for the entire game. The Sooners came out of halftime with a game plan that called for them to feed the post. They did. Their shooting percentage jumped from 25 percent in the first half to 40 percent in the second half.
That effort was lead by Sooner 6-foot-6 center Nicole Griffin who was allowed only 2 points and 1 rebound in the first half. She found her rhythm and added 10 points and four rebounds in the second half. Freshman forward Kaylon Williams at 6-foot-3 tallied 9 points and 10 rebounds off the bench in the second half.
The only remedy to the Tigers' defensive woes in the second half came from some low post-scoring of their own, specifically from senior forward and leading scorer, Christine Flores.
The 6-foot-3 Flores finished the game with 24 points on 8-of-21 shooting from the floor and 7-of-8 from the foul line. She also contributed a career-high 16 rebounds to go along with 5 blocks, the first of which made her the all-time leading shot blocker in Missouri program history. She now has 182 career blocks and 66 on the season.
“Christine did what she was supposed to do tonight, and what she needs to do for us from here on out,” Pingeton said. “She really put our team on her shoulders tonight.”
Late in the second half, Flores, as she has been all year, became the focal point of the Missouri offense. Fifteen of her 24 points came in the second half, and her offensive rebound and put back layup gave the Tigers a one point lead with just over three minutes to go.
But that would be the last time the Tigers would have the lead. Griffin added a layup 20 seconds later to give the Sooners a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Freshman guard, Morgan Eye did give the Tigers and their fans a thrill by hitting a 3-point-shot with 9 seconds to go pulling Missouri within one, but Oklahoma added two free-throws making the score 62-59 which became final after a missed three-point effort by Missouri guard Liene Priede.
"This was the best effort we've had for 40 minutes from our team so far this season," Pingeton said. "That scoreboard is hard right now, but I think these girls finally got it figured out and understand the toughness that we're going to compete with night in and night out.
Coale said she is happy she and her Sooners escaped Mizzou Arena with a victory and that she will likely only have to see Flores one more time in her career.
“We’ve had trouble with her, her whole career,” Coale said. “I’m glad she’s leaving and they’re going to the SEC and I don’t have to do that anymore.”
The Tigers' next game is against No.1-ranked Baylor at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Mizzou Arena.