DALLAS — Evan Unrau exceeded many expectations since coming to Missouri, including hers.
Unrau, a 6-foot-1 senior, came to Missouri in 2000 as a quiet kid from Fort Collins, Colo. She will leave as one of MU’s most versatile players.
Coach Cindy Stein said she knew she was getting a hard-working player with great potential when she recruited Unrau four years ago, but Unrau was not one of the premier recruits in the nation and no one could envision what was to come.
“As for where I am now, it’s kind of been a big surprise,” Unrau said. “I’ve made such a big jump from being just a post player or rebounder to someone that is getting the ball a lot. It’s been a fun surprise.”
Heading into tonight’s Big 12 Conference Tournament game against Oklahoma State at 6 at Reunion Arena, Unrau is seventh on Missouri’s scoring list with 1,564 points and her 920 rebounds make her No. 3 on Missouri’s rebounding list.
Last week, Unrau also became Missouri’s first two-time member of the All-Big 12 team, a sign of the unquestionable respect she earns from opposing coaches and within Big 12 women’s basketball.
“Evan is the kind of kid that makes us all want to coach and she deserves every honor she gets because she worked hard to get to that point and make herself a great player,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “Out of high school, she didn’t get the attention some of these other kids have gotten but she certainly now would have to be considered in the same breath as some of the best players to play in this league.”
Before Unrau leaves, she wants to cross one final accomplishment off her to-do list: a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. As a freshman, Unrau started every game and played a pivotal role in leading the Tigers to the Sweet Sixteen.
The past two years, Missouri settled for trips to the WNIT, but Unrau said she and Tracy Lozier, the only players left from the 2001 team, want nothing more than to return to college basketball’s biggest stage.
“I know I want to do my part to get back in the NCAA Tournament,” Unrau said. “Tracy and I had a taste of that our freshman year so it is kind of like the past three years we’ve been saying, ‘We really want to get back there.’”
Despite a rocky start in the Big 12, the Tigers regrouped and are certainly in position to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in 17 years.
It is widely believed at least seven Big 12 teams will be selected to the NCAA Tournament and the Tigers are the No. 7 seed in the Big 12 Tournament.
If Missouri (16-11, 7-9) can win a game or two in Dallas, it would be hard to deny the Tigers a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Missouri’s RPI ranking is 33rd and its schedule is ranked as the ninth-toughest.
Making it all possible
Without Unrau, though, Missouri would likely not be in the position it is. She leads the team with 17.7 points per game and her nine rebounds per game lead the Big 12. Unrau also leads the Big 12 with 13 double-doubles.
Aside from Unrau’s statistical leadership, her dedication and incredible desire to win are immeasurable intangibles that make Unrau one of the best players in the country.
Stein said Unrau’s ability to make a clutch play or come away with a loose ball never ceases to amaze, but Stein also said Unrau’s work ethic and desire search to improve are Unrau’s biggest keys to success.
“She just doesn’t accept failure,” Stein said. “Everyone else will leave and she stays at Hearnes (Center) and talks the workmen into getting the lights on so she can shoot or she’ll ask a manager to stay and rebound with her.
“Evan is truly the type of player that you don’t have to say a lot to because her expectations are right there with you.”
Her ability to make a difference in a game no matter the circumstances is one of Unrau’s best qualities. Against Iowa State on Feb. 28, Unrau shot 1-for-7 but made up for her poor shooting by making all 12 of her free throws and getting four assists.
In other games, Unrau seemingly can’t miss. Against No. 8 Kansas State on Feb. 22, Unrau scored a career-high 40 points and also grabbed 15 rebounds in a double-overtime loss to the Wildcats.
Admiration from the opposition
Considering Unrau’s performance against the Wildcats, it is no surprise Kansas State coach Deb Patterson considers Unrau one of the best players in the country.
“I just have so much admiration and respect for Evan Unrau,” Patterson said. “With Evan’s versatility and consistency and strength and competitiveness, you know you are going to line up against one of the best, I think, playing the women’s game.”
Despite all the accolades, Stein describes Unrau as “incredibly humble” and says Unrau never considers herself any more important than any of her teammates. Unrau said she uses the kind words she receives as an inspiration to improve.
“It’s nice to hear people say good things about you,” Unrau said. “At the same time you have to realize they say those things for a reason because you have worked hard and you have produced. I think it is a matter of keeping that in mind and continuing to play at that level.”
On the court, Unrau is an aggressive and scrappy player whom Stein describes as a tough player. Off the court, Unrau, 22, is soft-spoken but personable and enjoys spending time with her teammates and spending time outdoors.
“When I think of Evan Unrau, toughness comes to mind,” Stein said. “Then at the same time I’d say sweet because she is a really sweet person and it is an amazing thing that she is that tough on the court and also one of the sweetest kids you will ever meet.”