The results of the Missouri women’s basketball team’s first two games at Hearnes Center were by no means signs of things to come.
Losses to Northwest Missouri on Jan. 17, 1975, and Truman State six days later did not follow Missouri’s ideal plan for christening women’s basketball at Hearnes Center.
It wasn’t until the Tigers beat Missouri Western 73-49 on Jan. 24, 1975, that Missouri earned its first victory at Hearnes Center.
Despite the slow start, Hearnes Center soon became known as one of the toughest places in the country for opposing women’s basketball teams to play.
The Tigers won 73 percent of their 382 home games from 1975-2004, including a 113-22 record during the 1980s.
Although Missouri had great success at home, there was no shortage of outstanding opponents that came to Hearnes Center and beat the Tigers.
Because of the tremendously competitive nature of the Big 12 Conference, which was formed in 1996, women’s basketball fans in mid-Missouri had the luxury of watching many great teams play at Hearnes Center during the past decade.
The 2001-02 Oklahoma Sooners, arguably the greatest team to play at Hearnes Center, came to Columbia on Feb. 23, 2002, with a chance to clinch the Big 12 regular season title for the second straight year.
Missouri led 47-45 with 15:26 left and seemed poised to spoil the Sooners’ plans, but Oklahoma proved why it was ranked No. 3.
Led by senior Stacey Dales’ career-high 30 points, Oklahoma quickly ended Missouri’s upset bid with a 21-7 run and won 90-70.
“That was a pretty darn good Oklahoma team,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “There were some great players on that team.”
The Sooners finished 32-4 but lost to Connecticut 82-70 in the 2002 national title game. The 2001-02 Sooners are the only team to advance to a national championship in the same season it played at Hearnes Center.
The next year, Missouri came closer to upsetting one of the top teams. On Jan. 11, 2003, the No. 20 Texas Longhorns came to Hearnes Center desperately in search of a win.
The Longhorns were 9-4 and on the verge of letting what was supposed to be a promising season slip away. The Tigers led by as many as seven in the second half and were expected to hand Texas another defeat.
With the game tied at 52 with 2:56 left, Jamie Carey’s jumper ignited a 10-1 Texas run, and the Longhorns went on to win 70-59 in what remains a disappointing loss for Stein.
“Texas has just been loaded forever and they kind of find a new kid that takes some All-American’s spot with another All-American,” Stein said. “Its when you come that close to winning, those games stick in my mind because it is a missed opportunity.”
Texas’ comeback ignited the Longhorns’ run to the 2003 Final Four. After beating the Tigers, Texas won 20 of its next 21 games, won the Big 12 regular season and tournament championships and cruised through the NCAA Tournament West region.
The Longhorns finished 29-6, but their season ended in heartbreaking fashion. Texas led Connecticut by as many as nine in the second half of its national semifinal game, but the Longhorns suffered a scoring drought late and lost 71-69. The Huskies went on to win the national championship.
Despite the many great Big 12 opponents Missouri faced in the past 10 years, a list of the best teams to come to Hearnes Center must mention the Colorado Buffaloes, who dominated the Big Eight in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
The Buffaloes were the only team to finish 14-0 in Big Eight history, and they accomplished the feat twice.
In 1989, Colorado went unbeaten in the Big Eight, including a 75-67 win at Hearnes Center on Jan. 25, 1989, and finished the season 27-4.
Despite an impressive record, the Buffaloes’ season ended in disappointment when UNLV upset Colorado 84-74 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The storyline was similar six seasons later when Colorado again finished 14-0 in the Big Eight, earning their third straight conference championship. The Buffaloes beat Missouri at Hearnes Center 75-67 on Jan. 14, 1995, and entered the NCAA Tournament on a 22-game win streak as heavy favorites to win the Midwest Regional.
Despite the lofty expectations, the Buffaloes season ended in familiar fashion as Colorado failed to advance beyond the NCAA Regional for the third straight year, losing to Georgia 82-79 in the Elite Eight. Colorado finished 30-3.
Several outstanding nonconference opponents also played at Hearnes Center, especially in the first decade of Missouri women’s basketball.
Tennessee made its only trip to Hearnes Center in December 1978 for the Mid-America Classic, which featured not only the Lady Vols but also perennial powerhouses Texas and California State-Fullerton.
Led by legendary coach Pat Head (who became Pat Summitt in 1980), the Lady Vols cruised by Texas 84-60 in the first round of the tournament and beat Missouri 74-61 in the championship game.
Tennessee finished the season 30-9 and lost to Louisiana Tech 102-84 in the semifinal of the AIAW Championships, the national championship tournament for women’s basketball before becoming an NCAA-sanctioned sport in 1981.