KANSAS CITY – If the game had come down to inside shooting, the Missouri women’s basketball team would have looked no further than its center, Christelle N’Garsanet.
But the end of the game revolved around free throws, which is not N’Garsanet’s greatest skill.
Good thing Kansas put Carlynn Savant on the line instead.
Savant’s four free throws helped No. 9-seeded Missouri solidify a 62-57 victory against No. 8 Kansas in the opening game of the Big 12 Conference Tournament on Tuesday in Municipal Auditorium. Missouri shot 8-of-15 from the free-throw line, but N’Garsanet was 1-of-7. Despite her woes, N’Garsanet finished with 19 points and pulled down nine rebounds.
Missouri coach Cindy Stein said the win helped rectify Missouri’s two earlier losses to Kansas this season. She said the team wanted to represent itself well at the tournament, but she knew that goal would require at least one thing.
“You can’t make a statement unless you win your first game,” Stein said, “because then you don’t get to the next one.”
The game was never out of reach for either team, but the Tigers took charge with 2:39 left.
In the next 1:41, the teams missed a combined five shots.
A key steal by N’Garsanet led to a pair of free throws by Bond, giving Missouri a two-point lead with 54 seconds left.
Kansas could not find its dominant force, center Crystal Kemp, and the Tigers made five more free throws – three by Savant and two by EeTisha Riddle – to seal the victory.
“We just knew that we had to put great pressure on and get a couple of stops,” Bond said. “Well, not a couple, but try to get a whole bunch of stops, but we just picked up the pressure on defense.”
The inside game was a focus for both teams, and it lived up to expectations. N’Garsanet found her offensive rhythm in the first half.
She shot 7-of-11, scored 15 and pulled down five rebounds, including four on the offensive glass.
Kansas’ duo of Kemp and Hallman also had success in the first half. They shot a combined 11-of-15 and scored 24. The Jayhawks shot 51.7 percent.
Kemp, who finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds, continued her offensive show in the second half.
“It was really physical,” N’Garsanet said. “(Kemp) is a very good player. It wasn’t easy. I had to play my game, just stay focused and not just focus on her.”
Kemp’s offense might have been rolling, but Kansas’ shooting fell short. The Jayhawks shot 25.7 percent in the second half.
Bond stepped up throughout the game to give Missouri what it needed at the time. Stein said that is typical of what Bond can do at any given moment in a game.
“It’s disappointing she didn’t make All-Big 12 Honorable Mention at least, and I felt like, as I told her, she could make a statement here in the tournament, but you still have to play balanced,” Stein said. “And I think she did that today.”
Bond finished with 12 points, three steals and a career-high nine rebounds.
Missouri’s rebounding helped create second-chance opportunities. For instance, the Riddle grabbed an offensive rebound off an N’Garsanet missed free throw for a put-back and a 51-50 lead.
Riddle scored 14 and grabbed eight rebounds. Missouri out-rebounded Kansas 40-34.
Today at noon, Missouri faces top-seeded Baylor.
In the Tigers’ previous game with the Bears, they lost 74-57.
“We feel good that we have one game under belt where we can kind of get the jitters out,” Stein said. “We know they’re going to be coming in, running full force with a lot to prove. I think our kids are as ready as they can be.”