Tonight will be a meeting of two unknowns.
“I like the fact that we’re playing a team that does have so many new players that are not established in the Big 12,” Oklahoma State coach Julie Goodenough said. “And that’s kind of the way we are too.”
The Missouri women’s basketball team (6-5) faces Oklahoma State (5-5) at 7 p.m. in Mizzou Arena to begin Big 12 Conference action.
“We open up (conference play) with two home games, and that’s the first time that’s happened in awhile,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “We need to take advantage of that.”
The Tigers are 0-8 in Big 12 Conference openers, but have won the last 6-out-of-8 meetings against the Cowgirls.
Both teams have new faces and old challenges to overcome.
The Cowgirls were 8-20 last season, with a 1-11 road record. The team lost its leading scorer in 6-foot-2 senior center Trisha Skibbe.
Skibbe averaged 19.0 points and 7.8 rebounds.
This season, Oklahoma State has lost its first three games on the road.
“It’s amazing, you think you’ve got rebounding down and then you get out-rebounded,” Goodenough said. “You think your offense is flowing pretty well, and then you have a game where your offense breaks down every other possession.”
Missouri has a two-game win streak, but the team is still struggling to establish itself.
“I think that we’re still probably trying to find that (identity),” Stein said. “I think we’re getting closer.”
Last season, the Tigers depended heavily on seniors Evan Unrau and Stretch James.
Unrau averaged 17.0 points and 8.9 boards and James with 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Stein said that she sees some complacency in the team at times, and that must stop.
One example is the 17-point lead that Missouri held over Saint Louis on Jan. 2. The Tigers’ allowed it to slip down to six points before a steal by LaToya Bond propelled the team to victory in the final four minutes.
“Defense for us is critical,” Stein said. “We’ve been taking good shots but they haven’t been dropping.”
Missouri is shooting 39.8 percent from the floor.
Goodenough is very aware of something that Missouri has - size.
“Maybe one of the differences we’ve seen is how huge they are,” Goodenough said. “This might be the biggest team in the conference.”
Missouri’s lineup against Saint Louis featured three players who are 6-foot-3: Megan Roney, Christelle N’Garsanet, and EeTisha Riddle. The two remaining players were 5-foot-11 Tiffany Brooks and the 5-foot-7 Bond.
Brooks is proving her worth early to the Tigers. She is averaging 11 points.
“Tiffany fits our style real well and that is what’s been nice,” Stein said. “She’s really been a real steady for us.”
N’Garsanet is scoring a team-high 13.4 points a game.
Nina Stone is a big force for the Cowgirls.
The 5-foot-7 senior guard is averaging 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and is shooting 46 percent from the field.
Oklahoma State has Stone’s guidance, but still relies heavily on youth.
Sophomore guard Devry McDonald averaged 6.8 points a game, but has the ability to take over a game.
McDonald scored a team-high 15 points against Texas Pan-American on Jan 2.
Cowgirl Taleesha Conder regularly comes in off the bench. Conder, a 6-foot freshman guard, is scoring 12.9 points and grabbing five boards a game.
The Cowgirls have added an element of resilience to this team.
“They get frustrated when things don’t go their way, but they don’t quit playing hard,” Goodenough said. “I think that has not been a characteristic for our team the last couple of years.”
Stein said her team is talented, but it must continue to work hard every day to compete.
“We’re a team that is constantly in a process,” Stein said. “We hope that process starts peaking when we’re playing at our top game for 40 minutes.”