Missouri’s schedule is about to get a lot busier.
After playing one game in the past 19 days, the Tigers host Iowa at Hearnes Center today in the first of three games in six days.
Missouri faces Miami of Ohio on Friday and plays at St. Louis on Sunday in the Tigers’ last nonconference game of the season.
Missouri forward Evan Unrau said the coming stretch will serve as a crucial tune-up for the grueling Big 12 Conference season, which begins Jan. 7 at Kansas State.
“These next three games are really important,” Unrau said. “It’s a good preparation for going into the Big 12 and Kansas State, so we need a couple wins here.”
With a tough schedule ahead, the next three games also provide Missouri (6-4) with an opportunity to earn some valuable victories that could play an important role in swaying the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Aside from focusing on its task on the court, Missouri must also deal with the effects of its recent layoff.
Missouri coach Cindy Stein says that the Tigers light schedule the past few weeks, coupled with her players not having school to occupy their time, could easily cause a problem.
“I think every team fights a lot of things right now,” Stein said. “Your kids are so used to a schedule and now their routine is thrown off and they have all this extra time. If they lay in bed all day they are sluggish but at the same time if they run around like crazy they are tired.
“It’s just trying to get a happy medium and get them to understand what is the most important thing because you want them rested but you don’t want them sitting around all day either.”
Missouri struggled at Iowa last year after an almost identical layoff, shooting 38.5 percent while losing 87-65. Stein hopes her team can come out sharper this year after its extended break.
“If you look at our Iowa game last year, we played really hard but we just couldn’t hit the broad side of a bucket and it was ridiculous” Stein said. “Obviously we really hope that we can counter (the layoff) a lot better this year.”
Last year, Missouri had a hard time defending Iowa’s triangle offense, and Unuau said she expects a similar defensive challenge this year.
“With the triangle it is important for us to have a lot of communication on the floor because there are so many cuts and reads going on,” Unrau said. “I think that is the key to the game.”
The strong inside and outside tandem of Jamie Cavey, a 6-foot-3 center, and Kristi Faulkner, a 5-7 guard, lead Iowa (6-4). Cavey and Faulkner lead the Hawkeyes with 16.1 points per game. Jennie Lillis, a 6-1 forward, averages 15 points.
Stein said disciplined defense and keeping the ball away from Cavey, Faulkner and Lillis will be Missouri’s keys to success.