Freshman Kyley Simmons might have made the most important shot of her young career with the Missouri women's basketball team Saturday at Kansas.
Simmons, not known for her shooting touch, made a 3-point shot with less than three minutes left to put the Tigers ahead by seven points. The play helped secure a 70-65 victory against the Jayhawks for Missouri's first Big 12 Conference win of the season.
Simmons — who scored 13 points, was 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, had six assists and only three turnovers in 39 minutes of play — wasn't feeling well before the game.
"She had an upset stomach before the game started, and we had to give her some Tums," Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. "I don't know if she ate something wrong or what, but I'll tell you what, she's a fighter."
Pingeton has preached that the entire season is a work in progress. At times, that process seemed stalled and stagnant as the Tigers lost 13 conference games in a row. Pingeton stressed the importance of acknowledging little victories in games. Finally, though, those little victories actually showed up on the scoreboard.
"I'm proud of our girls, it's been a season full of some challenges," Pingeton said. "At some point, there's probably a little bit of wavering there in (our players' minds). It makes you emotional in practice because they're still fighting. And good for them, what a big win for us."
As important of a win as this was for the Tigers, they almost relinquished their lead late in the second half. Missouri led by 15 points at halftime — its largest halftime lead of the conference season — but Kansas pulled to within four and looked on the verge of mounting a comeback.
"We got a lot of kids that haven't been in these positions, you look at BreAnna Brock and some of the freshman out there," Pingeton said. "We had some breakdowns there at the end. But again, I'm proud of our girls."
Saturday was the last time Missouri and Kansas will play each other in the foreseeable future, making this win even more memorable for the Tigers. Pingeton won't let her team get too distracted by the elation of winning their first conference game, but still admits how important it was for her team and her program.
"This is one win, it doesn't define us, it doesn't make or break our season," she said. "But it's a big one."
Kansas was without its leading scorer Carolyn Davis, who averaged 17.5 points per game before she tore her anterior cruciate ligament and dislocated her left knee in a loss to Kansas State on Feb. 12.
The Jayhawks take pride in their defensive game. Before Saturday, Kansas had allowed only Baylor to shoot better than 50 percent from the field. But the Tigers made 57 percent of their shots Saturday and were 7-of-12 from 3-point range.
Christine Flores led the Tigers with 24 points. Junior Sydney Crafton tied with Simmons for second on the team with 13 points. Missouri had 16 assists compared to 17 turnovers and were 9-for-10 from the free-throw line.