The Missouri women’s basketball team likes to think it’s hiding out in the Big 12 Conference.
Coach Cindy Stein said opponents are likely to underestimate Missouri—the team she says no one is thinking or talking about.
“You know, how fired up are they going to get about somebody they don’t know about?” Stein said.
Megan Roney, a 6-foot-3 center, agreed.
“We were picked, what, eighth? I think, one, the fact that we were picked that low, we’re out to prove we’re going to be good,” Roney said. “Teams are going to look past us, and that’s when you come in and show them what you’re really made of.”
Last season, Missouri finished 17-13 and earned a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Stein said rebounding and taking care of the ball are two aspects in need of improvement for her squad.
The Tigers lost their two best rebounders from last season, Stretch James with 6.8 rebounds per game and Evan Unrau with 8.9. Last season, Roney averaged 3.5 and junior Christelle N’Garsanet averaged 2.9..
Missouri’s 16.6 turnovers per game were 1.2 fewer than their opponents last season, but they will have to do better than that to stay competitive in the conference.
The Big 12 boasts some of the toughest competition in the nation, with five Associated Press Top 25 teams.
Stein said she believes the Big 12 is a perennial “dogfight.”
“You may look at a Texas and think ‘holy smokes, that’s an incredible team,’ but you can’t take for granted that the 12th team in the conference is going to be a lightweight,” Stein said.
Playing in such a tough conference prepares the Tigers for postseason play.
Missouri is aiming for a sixth straight postseason berth, which would break the school record.
“Absolutely, postseason play is a goal of ours every year, and obviously, the NCAA tournament is extremely important to us,” Stein said. “So we kind of keep that in mind, but you don’t think of it as a milestone that we need to break.”
Stein is going into her seventh season with the comfort of a two-year contract extension that she signed in September. The Tigers have gone 101-79 in her six seasons at MU.
Since leading the Tigers to an 11-16 record during the 1997-1998 season, Stein’s first at Missouri, she has turned her team around. The Tigers have finished with a winning record for the past four seasons.
Before Stein came to Missouri in 1998, she transformed the women’s basketball program at Emporia State (Kansas), a Division II school.
She herself was a standout player at the University of Illinois, and holds the Illini’s highest assists-per-game career average.
Stein said she knew in the sixth grade that she wanted to coach basketball.
“I’ve always kind of had a feel for it,” Stein said. “I guess I was always bossing people around then, and it just kind of continued to carry through.”
Stein said she thinks Missouri’s program is on its way to the next level, which has been her goal from the start.
“Obviously you always want to maybe knock on the door of the top echelon teams in our league, and I think we’ve done that,” Stein said. “But we need to start knocking them off consistently.”
The Paige Sports Arena should help Stein propel the program forward. Stein said it helped sign top recruit Alyssa Hollins, a 6-foot guard from John Horn High in Mesquite, Texas to a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday.
“It’s huge. This arena kind of dictates and probably puts a little more emphasis on the support that we have from the university, the support from the community,” Stein said.
Missouri’s season opener will be on Nov. 19 in Iowa City, Iowa. The Tigers take on Northern Illinois in the KCRG TV-9 Holiday Challenge.