An old and familiar problem is again festering for the Missouri women’s basketball team.
As was often the case last season, Big 12 Conference opponents’ post players are having success against the Tigers’ inside defense.
Missouri coach Cindy Stein said she is “absolutely not” pleased with her team’s post defense after Missouri (9-5, 0-3) struggled in its first three Big 12 games.
Nicole Ohlde, Kansas State’s 6-foot-5 center, scored 31 points to lead the Wildcats by Missouri 95-59 on Jan. 7. Crystal Kemp, Kansas’ 6-2 forward, scored a game-high 20 in the Jayhawks’ 55-52 win against the Tigers on Jan. 10. Katie Morse, Nebraska’s 6-4 center, finished with a season-high 18 points in the Huskers’ 74-69 win against Missouri on Wednesday.
“The games we’ve lost we’ve been very unaggressive, especially defensively,” Stein said. “That’s something that we have to get out of the mode of and we have to do a lot better job of moving our feet and getting in better position.”
The Tigers’ defensive task gets no easier when they travel to Boulder, Colo., today to face Tera Bjorklund and the No. 15 Colorado Buffaloes at 3 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on Fox Sports Net.
“Tera is one of the best players in the country,” Stein said. “She is just a tremendous center and a true center.”
Stein’s compliment is no overstatement. Bjorklund, a 6-5 senior, is second in scoring in the Big 12 with 19.5 points per game. Bjorklund is also one of the few true centers in women’s college basketball and her versatility makes her difficult to defend.
“(Bjorklund) has size and is mobile and shoots the ball,” Missouri center Melanie Fisher said. “Those three combined make her a good player and she will be a challenge.”
Fisher, a 6-2 senior, will share the responsibility of holding Bjorklund in check with Stretch James, another 6-2 senior. Bjorklund led all scorers with 22 points against Fisher and James in Missouri’s 69-48 loss at Colorado last season.
The Tigers head to Colorado (13-2, 2-1) desperately in search of a win after dropping two straight home games, but Missouri victories at the Coors Events Center are a rarity.
Stein has never won at Colorado in her seven seasons at Missouri. The Tigers’ most recent road win against the Buffaloes came on Feb. 7, 1990, when the Tigers beat Colorado 58-55 en route to winning the Big Eight Conference championship.
“Colorado is a difficult place to play given a lot of various factors,” Missouri senior Evan Unrau said. “The altitude is always in your head and they are a great team and we haven’t won there in a long time.”
Making matters worse, Missouri will again be short-handed at guard. With sophomore LaToya Bond sidelined with a broken left foot and senior MyEsha Perkins serving the second game of her two-game suspension for her role in the postgame fight between Missouri and Kansas on Jan. 10, the Tigers will turn to freshmen Carlynn Savant and Blair Hardiek to bolster the backcourt.
Despite Missouri’s recent woes and its history of disappointment in Colorado, Fisher sees today’s game as an opportunity to get back on track heading into the latter half of the season.
“We haven’t played our best and we let some games slip away but it is early and all is not lost,” Fisher said. “When you don’t start off the way that you want to you just want to make sure you get back on track and going in the right direction.
“It is more important to win in the end and have a good role into the Big 12 Tournament, so if we sacrificed a couple losses early to play great starting (today) that would be a good thing.”