DALLAS — Oklahoma State came to the Big 12 Conference Tournament reeling from the loss of its best player, but Missouri showed the Cowgirls no mercy Tuesday.
Trisha Skibbe, who led the Big 12 in scoring with 19 points per game, quit the team March 1, leaving Oklahoma State without its senior center heading into its regular-season finale March 3.
Knowing the Cowgirls would be limited inside, seventh-seeded Missouri got the ball to forward Stretch James and center Megan Roney early and often and it paid off for the Tigers, who defeated 10th-seeded Oklahoma State 75-52 in the first round at Reunion Arena.
“We felt like our post players were going to be a key element in the game because of (Skibbe’s absence),” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “They were hurting depth-wise, so we really wanted to have a good inside attack.”
Roney led Missouri (17-11) with a career-high 15 points, and James added 14 points as they guided the Tigers to their fourth straight win.
James’ greatest contribution, though, was finding her open teammates when she attracted a double team. Nearly every time James touched the ball, Oklahoma State collapsed and James normally found an open teammate for an easy score.
“My girl was leaving me to double team Stretch, so I was wide open pretty much every time,” Roney said. “Stretch found me perfect every time.”
James wasn’t Missouri’s only player piling up assists. Evan Unrau tied a career-high with seven assists, and LaToya Bond added six assists. The Tigers’ 23 assists were their most since having 25 against Miami (Ohio) on Jan. 2.
Missouri’s impressive performance against Oklahoma State was quite a departure from its disappointing effort last year in the first round of the tournament.
Oklahoma State (8-20) upset Missouri 56-54 in the first round last year, thanks in large part to the Tigers’ terrible offensive performance. Missouri shot 29.7 percent and committed 22 turnovers.
Missouri came out determined to make sure history didn’t repeat itself Tuesday by shooting 65.5 percent in the first half. Missouri shot 50 percent for the game and committed 14 turnovers.
“All day today they demonstrated that they wanted to play and they wanted to get here and get the game going,” Stein said. “That’s a big difference from last year. Last year I think they were a little bit more nervous and felt a little bit more pressure.”
Nebraska’s 63-52 loss to Iowa State on Tuesday might end up being Missouri’s gain.
Missouri and Nebraska tied for seventh in the Big 12 regular-season standings and both teams came to Dallas hoping to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee and solidify their claims for a spot in next week’s NCAA Tournament.
Nebraska (17-11) managed four points in the final 4:18, and Iowa State’s timely 3-point shooting doomed the Huskers. Nebraska also won’t win recognition by losing five of its past six.
Meanwhile, Missouri is peaking at the right time, having won its five of its past seven. With the Tigers’ recent success, Stein said she hopes her team’s effort will be enough to impress the selection committee.
“I’m not sure if me playing it out in the media and telling everyone we should be (in the tournament) is going to get me any favors,” Stein said. “I’m just going to let them do their job and if we take care of business it will all happen.”