COLUMBIA — For all the improvements the Missouri women's basketball team has made throughout Big 12 Conference play, the ability to stay consistent for an entire game continues to elude the Tigers.
Missouri has improved dramatically since starting Big 12 play on a 13-game losing streak. The Tigers aren't giving up quite as many turnovers. They're taking better shots and are averaging about two more blocks per game than their opponents.
Missouri (12-16, 2-15)
at Oklahoma State (15-11, 7-10)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, Okla.
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM
It's not just self-proclaimed progress; other teams' coaches are recognizing it, too.
"I knew when I was watching tape the first time we played, they were getting better and better, especially having a couple of wins under their belt. I was very concerned," Texas coach Gail Goestenkors said after the Longhorns' 75-62 victory over the Tigers on Tuesday at Mizzou Arena.
But it's hard to string together wins without being able to play well for an entire game. The Tigers have suffered lapses at an assortment of times during games.
"I don't think it's always been going wrong, I think you got to dissect each game," Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. "I think we've gotten better the second half, but we're still having some inconsistencies."
At first, Missouri had problems scoring in the opening minutes of games.
On Jan. 21 against Oklahoma State, Missouri went five minutes without scoring. Four days later against Texas, the Tigers scored only nine points in the first seven minutes.
Then Missouri couldn't finish in the final minutes, losing by four points to both Oklahoma and No. 14 Texas A&M in back-to-back games. At one point, with less than three minutes left against the Aggies, the Tigers held a three-point lead.
Finishing games has since become easier for the Tigers, mostly because of the growth of their younger players such as Kyley Simmons and Morgan Eye.
"We're doing a much better job of taking care of the ball, which allows us to be in late-game situations," Pingeton said. "From there it's that experience and that poise. No matter how much you simulate it in practice, it's just not the same until you go through it. We have a lot of kids who haven't been in those situations."
But after a 61-56 overtime victory against Kansas State, a new problem arose against Texas on Tuesday night, when Missouri was unable to start the second half strong.
The Tigers gained an early 15-4 lead but let the Longhorns creep back into the game late in the first half, ending the opening frame with only a four-point lead.
Freshman point guard Kyley Simmons said the opening minutes of the second half are often the most crucial, as opponents tweak their strategies and adjust their game plans to compensate for problems in the first half.
Missouri saw that against Texas, when the Longhorns brought three defenders to the post to stifle BreAnna Brock and struggling Christine Flores. From there, everything unraveled. Missouri scored only six points in the first 8:16 of the second half and allowed Texas to take a 50-39 lead.
"I take full responsibility for the way we came out," Simmons said. "As a leader of this team, and what we are trying to get at, I think that is my responsibility, and that is why we came out flat."
Simmons' statement was a testament to the type of leader she can be, but none of what happened to the Tigers in the first eight minutes seemed to be her fault. Missouri had three turnovers in that span, none of which came from Simmons.
Nevertheless, if Missouri hopes to surprise teams in the Big 12 Conference Tournament, it has to put together a game with contributions from its entire roster.