KANSAS CITY — As time wound down on two outdated scoreboards at Municipal Auditorium, the usually boisterous Missouri bench was silent.
Junior Liz Smith sat with her left hand over her mouth. Senior BreAnna Brock — who fouled out of the game in the final minute — sat with her elbows on her knees. The realization that the Missouri women's basketball season was coming to an end was setting in.
When the scoreboards reached 0:00 and the final buzzer sounded in Missouri's 70-59 loss to Oklahoma on Thursday night, in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Conference Tournament in Kansas City, senior Christine Flores walked to the sideline with her hands locked together behind her head.
The disappointment was evident only for a moment. Brock was the first in line to shake the hands of Oklahoma players. As Missouri's players jogged to the locker room, coach Robin Pingeton walked slower than her team, making sure she gave every one of her players a high-five as Oklahoma celebrated behind her.
The range of emotion after the game was clear enough. Flores walked into the postgame press conference teary-eyed and sniffling. Freshman Morgan Eye smiled while talking about how close the Missouri players are. Pingeton cracked a joke and playfully slapped Flores' arm.
Pingeton initially refused to talk about the breakdowns her team had, especially in the second half. She instead focused on thanking her three seniors, Brock, Flores and Bailey Gee.
"Our focus right now is making sure our seniors understand how much we appreciate them and just want to be there for them," Pingeton said. "And then when the time is right, we'll exhale a little bit. We'll embrace the opportunities that we have in front of us for the next season."
In return, Flores, minutes away from a trip to the locker room to take off her Missouri uniform for the final time, was quick to praise her coach.
"She turned around my whole entire life," Flores said of Pingeton. "It wasn't just basketball she turned around. She's only made me a better player and person."
Missouri almost delayed the end of their season, and the range of emotions that goes with it, at least another day. The Tigers took advantage of dominant post play from Flores and Brock early in the first half. The two seniors combined for five blocks in the first half, and Missouri benefited from six 3-point shots that gave them a 33-23 halftime lead.
"We were a black hole at the post spot in the first half," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "...We have had a problem guarding Flores for four years. She's been a conundrum for us because she can step out and shoot it, and she's so crafty inside."
But Oklahoma regrouped in the second half after Coale called out some of her players in the locker room.
"I kind of got challenged at halftime that a freshman was kicking my butt," Sooners junior guard Whitney Hand said, referring to the Tigers' Kyley Simmons. "That's kind of hard to swallow for all I've been through."
In the second half, Brock scored an early two points for the Tigers, and it looked as if the improbable might happen for the second time in as many nights. Missouri, the No. 10 seed, upset the No. 7 seed Oklahoma State on Wednesday night to reach the quarterfinals.
But No. 2 seed Oklahoma scored 15 points in the next eight minutes to Missouri's four, taking a 38-37 lead.
"They're really good when they get on a run, and it's hard to stop that," freshman Morgan Eye said. "They went on a little bit of a run, and it's hard to get some momentum."
Oklahoma reached the bonus early in both halves, which kept Missouri from mounting a comeback in the second. Oklahoma was 20-for-29 from the free-throw line.
Missouri was the victim of its own carelessness again Thursday, giving up 20 turnovers that Oklahoma converted into 17 points.
Flores led Missouri with 18 points. Junior college transfer Liene Priede was the only other player in double-figures in points with 15.