Seeing the score, 87-59, it looked like a routine night for the Columbia College women’s basketball team.
It was just another game, another 28-point victory for the Cougars, who have won nine in a row.
But something was different on Tuesday against Missouri Baptist. Forward Charliss Ridley, the Cougars’ leading scorer and 2003-04 second-team NAIA All-American, did not play. Ridley’s grandmother died earlier that day, and the team didn’t find out about it until its pre-game dinner.
“We can’t say that it doesn’t matter who’s here,” Columbia College coach Mike Davis said. “For us to be at our best, we need (Ridley) here.”
As well as scoring 19.2 per game, Ridley leads the Cougars in rebounding and field goal percentage.
Lisa Kowalewski, the team’s second-leading scorer and Columbia College basketball’s all-time scoring leader, knew the value of getting a strong start Tuesday.
“With any game, we want to come out with a really strong start and make a statement at the beginning of the game that we’re not just going to mess around,” Kowalewski said. “We’re out for a purpose.”
Kowalewski certainly didn’t mess around in the first half, scoring 19 and pulling down eight rebounds. Forward LeAnn Fossum contributed to the strong start by adding seven points and five rebounds in the half. She finished three assists shy of a triple-double.
“We just attacked them,” Davis said. “I thought we were really aggressive offensively to start the ballgame.”
The Cougars’ 41 first-half points came on below-average shooting.The team is shooting 44 percent this season but shot 35 percent in the first half.
Fortunately for the Cougars, they shot better (42 percent) from 3-point range. Eighteen first-half points came from beyond the arc. Kowalewski and forward Mindy Mitchem each made two of three 3-point attempts.
“I’ve made thousands of shots in my career,” Kowalewski said. “It’s just muscle memory.”
Forward Rachel Davis, who started in place of Ridley, was quiet in the first half, with no points or rebounds. She came out strong in the second half though, scoring the first basket of the half and finishing with nine points.
“I don’t look at it as starting or not starting, it’s just playing on the court,” she said.
Mike Davis said his team did a good job of stepping up and filling in roles with Ridley’s absence. All eight players scored at least seven, with reserve Randi Hunt scoring eight in six minutes.
On defense, the Cougars were able to hold AMC player of the week LaTrice McMichel to 17 points. McMichel averaged 26.3 points in her past two games.
Mike Davis said the Cougars wanted to force McMichel to work hard, and he thought they accomplished their goal.
“I think she’ll sleep well tonight,” he said.
Mike Davis said that Ridley’s place with her family was “where she needed to be” after losing her grandmother.
“As coaches, we always think that basketball is the most important thing in the world, but there are more important things,” he said.
Ridley will be back with the Cougars for their next game, Saturday at 2 p.m. against Harris-Stowe State College in St. Louis.