Tough competition awaits the Missouri women’s basketball team this season in its quest to reach the postseason for the fifth straight year.
The Tigers will face eight teams that appeared in the NCAA Tournament last year and three teams that played in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
With all but one player returning from last year’s team, Missouri is looking to improve on a 17-14 season that ended with a 62-61 loss to Colorado State in the quarterfinals of the WNIT on March 27.
With an unquestionably tough Big 12 Conference schedule, the Tigers will need to perform better against nonconference opponents than they did last year. Missouri was 8-7 in non-conference games last year, including a disappointing home loss to Austin Peay.
The Tigers open this season Nov. 23 at Bradley and host Southern of Baton Rouge, La., in the home opener Nov. 26.
Home games against Southwest Missouri State, Iowa and Miami of Ohio and a trip to play at St. Louis highlight the nonconference schedule.
Missouri faces a tough road test against Kansas State on Jan. 7 to begin the Big 12 schedule. Missouri will also play on the road Feb. 3 at Texas, which lost to eventual national champion Connecticut last season in the Women’s Final Four.
Missouri will host the other five Big 12 North teams, including a rematch with Kansas State on Feb. 22. The Tigers host Kansas on Jan. 10 and travel to play the Jayhawks on Jan. 24. Oklahoma, Baylor and NCAA tournament quarterfinalist Texas Tech will also make trips to Columbia.
With the Tigers moving into a new arena for the 2004-05 season, Missouri will play its final regular season home game at Hearnes Center on Feb. 28 against Iowa State.
While last season was littered with disappointments, including a 9-7 record in the Big 12 and a loss to Oklahoma State in the first round of the Big 12 Championship, Missouri’s experience should give fans hope that coach Cindy Stein can lead the Tigers through a tough schedule and back into the post-season.
Evan Unrau, a senior forward who led the Tigers last season with 16.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, will anchor a high-scoring offense that averaged 67.4 points per game last year.
The Tigers will be at a loss to replace graduated Kerensa Barr, the Missouri’s career assist leader. Junior Lauren Podratz and sophomore Blair Hardiek are expected to lead the competition to replace Barr at point guard.
Missouri will need to make its biggest adjustments defensively. Despite a frontline that averages more than 6 feet, the Tigers often had problems with smaller, speedier teams. Missouri yielded 64.7 points per game last year.
Senior center Melanie Fisher will play a major role in solidifying the Tigers defense. At times Fisher has shown flashes of brilliance and proved to be an intimidating force in the post, but injuries slowed her last season. If she can mix her size on defense with her offensive talent, she could become an important asset for the Tigers.