Missouri women's basketball wins first conference tournament game since 2008

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 | 11:25 p.m. CST; updated 11:52 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Members of the Missouri women's basketball team cheer for a basket during the first round of the Big 12 tournament against Oklahoma State on Wednesday in Kansas City. Missouri won the game 72-68.

COLUMBIA — The game was slowly slipping away from the Missouri women's basketball team.

Tigers coach Robin Pingeton, dressed in a black suit and pink shirt, knelt near the sideline, whiteboard pinned against the floor and a hand on her chin, watching as senior BreAnna Brock missed her first free throw with 28 seconds left.

The 10th-seeded Tigers were in the midst of squandering a 22-point second-half lead in their first Big 12 Conference Tournament game against No. 7 seed Oklahoma State on Wednesday at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.

But Brock made her second free throw, extending Missouri's lead to 71-65.

The two-possession advantage lasted only five seconds. Oklahoma State center Lindsey Keller came back with a 3-point shot to put even more pressure on Missouri.

With only 23 seconds left, freshman Morgan Eye was intentionally fouled, and the Tigers again had to go to the line to fend off the Cowgirls.

Eye missed her first shot but made her second, sealing a 72-68 victory.

When the final buzzer sounded, freshman Kyley Simmons ran to the nearest teammate she could find near midcourt, bear-hugging Sydney Crafton before running over to shake the hands of dejected Oklahoma State players.

Before the Tigers ran back into the locker room to digest their first Big 12 Conference Tournament win in five years, Brock let loose a shrill scream and skipped into the bowels of Municipal Auditorium before disappearing from sight.

Her career at Missouri would last at least one more night.

"This is an awesome position to be in," Brock said. "I mean, especially as seniors, as me and Christine (Flores) have been here, we haven't won our first game in the conference tournament. This is an awesome position. This is just the beginning of it. We just have to keep going up."

Few expected the Tigers to get beyond even the first game, especially since Oklahoma State beat Missouri 68-47 in the final game of the regular season Saturday.

But Pingeton said she knew her team was capable of more than what they showed Saturday, which might have helped going into Wednesday's rematch. 

"It was a huge advantage because we knew we didn't play very well," Pingeton said. "For us, it certainly was an advantage because there was such a discrepancy in the score, and we knew we were so much better than what we have performed up there."

The Tigers' early second-half struggles have been evident in the past two games, but the scene midway through the half seemed surreal, even to them.

Missouri led 37-29 at halftime and surged early in the second half.

Senior Christine Flores, who finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks to lead the Tigers, scored two points on Missouri's first possession of the second half. Crafton followed that up with a wide-open 3-point shot to give Missouri a 42-29 lead.

Unlike previous games, though, Missouri kept pushing and shooting. Eye, who scored 16 points, made back-to-back 3-point shots, followed by another from Flores that gave Missouri a 55-34 lead with 14 minutes left.

Missouri players jumped from the bench, waving white towels, screaming at their teammates to keep pushing. Even the usually stoic Pingeton clapped her hands and smiled a little.

But the Missouri team from past games began showing itself more and more as the second half continued.

"I think, when you get ahead, you kind of get lackadaisical," Flores said. "That's something that we have to learn not to do. We have to keep our composure and keep our momentum going. I think the energy and the fight that we had was always there, it just kind of lacked there for one or two minutes, and that's something we can't afford to do."

The Tigers scored only 13 points in the last 12 minutes of the game, allowing Oklahoma State to climb to within five points before Brock, who scored 15 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, made her second free throw to make it a two-possession deficit.

"It's been a long time since we've been in a position to have such a big lead," Pingeton said. "I think they started celebrating a little early. It was uncharted territory for us in conference play."

Missouri will play No. 2 seed Oklahoma at 5 p.m. Thursday at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.

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