In the past two games, Stretch James has let opponents know she has shots they have never seen.
James, a 6-foot-2 senior forward, scores most of her points inside, but she recently began to showcase her improved outside shot. This will help Missouri (11-7, 2-5 Big 12 Conference) against No. 3 Texas. The Tigers play the Longhorns at 7 tonight in Austin, Texas.
Texas (19-2, 7-1) leads the conference, a half game ahead of Kansas State and Colorado.
“I am definitely working on my outside shot,” James said. “I’ve been a strong (center) player just playing on the inside.
“I’ve wanted to come around playing the outside a little bit. I’ve been working on it with a couple of my teammates. I am glad I am not just an inside, box-to-box player.”
James showed her improved shooting in the second half against Oklahoma on Wednesday when she hit an 18-foot shot. The basket was close to being a 3-pointer, but the official said James was on the line.
James, who averages 13.4 points and 7.1 rebounds, also surprised Colorado on Saturday when she hit back-to-back baseline shots in the second half.
“James’ range on her shot has gotten better since she first came here,” Colorado coach Ceal Barry said. “She was 15 feet out of the way and she’s knocking those shots down. Now last year, she wasn’t making those kinds of shots.”
James’ improvement isn’t a surprise to Missouri coach Cindy Stein.
“I think Stretch really works hard every day,” Stein said. “She has had such a good approach to everything that she is doing to improve her game.
“The main thing about Stretch is she will make them when she thinks she will. It’s when she is not sure she should have shot it and she shoots it, you don’t know where the ball is going. When she is playing very confident like that we feel really good in her decision making.”
Missouri’s offense will be difficult to stop if James becomes consistent with her outside shot. The combination of James and senior forward Evan Unrau, an established threat inside and outside, will be tough to defend.
“(James) being able to step out and hit that shot, or even being able to step out there and someone has to defend it, it helps open up our offense,” Stein said. “It’s pluses on every side.”
Opening up the middle will take some pressure off Missouri inside. The Tigers are without senior center Melanie Fisher, who severely strained her back Saturday and likely will miss at least a week, Stein said. Missouri is deep at center, but the Tigers will miss Fisher’s experience and leadership.
James’ confidence also has improved, and she made her first career 3-point attempt with 9:31 left against Colorado. She missed, but she said she wouldn’t be afraid to try again.
Although making a 3-pointer isn’t high on her list of priorities, James wants to make one before she is done.
“Whatever happens, if I get the open look I’ll shoot it,” James said. “It’s nothing I plan on doing, but if it happens it happens. But I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t.”