Wildcats pose big challenge

The Tigers hope to avenge an 87-44 loss at Kansas State.
Wednesday, March 2, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:15 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

It’s not done quite yet.

Some Missouri women’s basketball fans may have been wishing for this season to come to an end after a disappointing 9-16 record.

But the team proved it still heart with a 70-65 overtime win against Nebraska last week.

Coach Cindy Stein said the win was “really big for us” and gave the team confidence going into the remainder of the season.

Tonight will determine if that confidence can carry the Tigers into the Big 12 tournament on an upswing.

Missouri plays its final regular season game against No. 17 Kansas State at 7 tonight at Mizzou Arena.

Kansas State defeated Nebraska 94-69 on Feb. 23, and in their most recent match-up against the Tigers, the Wildcats won 87-44 on Jan. 11 in Manhattan, Kan.

How the game goes in Manhattan isn’t always a good indication of how the game will go in Columbia, though.

During past match-ups between Missouri and Kansas State, a lot has depended on location. Last year, the Tigers lost by 21 to Kansas State early in the season at Reunion Arena and then lost by three at Hearnes Center.

Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said the Wildcats have had close contests in Columbia during the past few years.

“The challenge before us, as we head into Columbia, is great,” she said. “We know Missouri’s been playing well lately, and we’ll have to be ready for a very emotional team.”

While the Tigers aren’t playing for a share of the Big 12 title, their final regular-season game does mean something.

With a Missouri win and Texas A&M loss tonight, the Tigers could clinch the eighth seed in the Big 12 tournament. That would set up a first-round game against Kansas. The Tigers would have a chance to avenge their embarrassing 60-42 loss to Kansas at home on Feb. 5.

Of course, to win tonight, Missouri will have to stop Kansas State’s Kendra Wecker, a preseason All-American and Naismith Player of the Year candidate.

Wecker, a senior, leads the team in scoring and averages a double-double, with 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Two Missouri natives start along with Wecker for Kansas State: sophomore Claire Coggins and freshman Shana Wheeler are from Lee’s Summit.

Coggins averages 10 points and has provided a spark in recent games.

“She’s done a nice job playing composed and making quality basketball decisions,” Patterson said. “When she does that, she’s a real important dynamic.”

Patterson mentioned Wheeler as a post player from the Big 12 who, though not blocking many shots, manages to change the front line of a team’s defense.

Stein said the Tigers needed to prepare themselves individually more than worry about the Wildcats.

“Our focus is just getting better as a team and not always focusing so much on the opponent,” Stein said.

Recently improved post play for Missouri may alter the game. The most recent time Missouri played Kansas State, four players were injured and others were struggling to find their roles.

Patterson said she thought post play would be an added dimension in the game, and that EeTisha Riddle, Carlynn Savant and Christelle N’Garsanet have all been playing well recently.

“I think that will be a real difference in this basketball game, that those three in particular have stepped up,” Patterson said.

Stein said her team is in the best shape they’ve been in all year, health-wise.

“You feel a lot better knowing you’re at full strength,” Stein said. “Kassie Drew said the Nebraska game was the first time she didn’t feel pain in her knee running up and down the floor.”

Maybe things are finally starting to look up for the Tigers, who have struggled to maintain optimism throughout the season.

“(Missouri) is a basketball team that’s continued to get better and more physical,” Patterson said.

There may only be one regular season game left, but it’s not too late for the Tigers to start making their fans want more. A win against Kansas State would be a dramatic way to start.

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