KANSAS CITY — Freshman Angela Tisdale, Baylor’s backup point guard, dribbled the ball slowly across half court. There were 12 seconds left, and Missouri was losing by 18.
The end of the game would mean the end of the season for the Tigers, whose 11-18 record merits neither an NCAA nor NIT berth.
But Missouri’s Tiffany Brooks kept playing defense. As Tisdale dribbled first to the right, then to the left, Brooks stayed one step ahead of her. She moved her feet and held her head high.
The Tigers lost 70-52 to Baylor Wednesday at Municipal Auditorium, yet Brooks’ defense might have been a benchmark of a Missouri team that had gained something this season: poise.
Point guard LaToya Bond said this season has taught the Tigers to keep their composure and avoid getting easily frustrated.
“That was a lot of problems we had earlier this year,” she said. “Next year, we’ll have to be mentally and physically stronger than that.”
Coach Cindy Stein said the Tigers had grown throughout the season.
“With such a young team, playing in such a tough conference, sometimes your self-esteem comes and goes with your shot,” Stein said. “Learning that type of poise just takes a little bit of time.”
As the season came to an end, optimism for the future was intermingled with doubt caused by a difficult past five months.
“I hope everything¹s going to be OK,” forward Christelle N’Garsanet said. “We’ll be working hard and we’ll get better and better every year.”
Nine of Missouri’s 11 players will return next season. All of the Tigers’ starters will be back. Bond and N’Garsanet will be seniors, and Brooks, this year’s leading scorer, will be a junior.
RESERVE SPARKS BEARS: When a team starts two players who average more than 16 points and eight rebounds it’s difficult for opponents to worry about bench players.
All-Americans Steffanie Blackmon and Sophia Young have tormented teams all year with their inside presence.
“I’ve got (Blackmon) and (Young), and it doesn’t matter how big the other team is, we’re not going to go away from our strengths,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robinson said.
But against Missouri, a sophomore reserve gave Baylor a boost.
Guard Latoya Wyatt was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor, scoring 11 points.
Five minutes into the second half, Megan Roney hit a 3-pointer to put Missouri within 10 but Wyatt hit three shots in four minutes to help the Bears regain a 15-point lead.
It wasn’t Wyatt’s offense that most impressed Mulkey-Robinson.
“She thought she was staying in the game because she was five-for-five,” Mulkey-Robinson said. “But I quickly let her know that she stayed out there because she was all over the place defensively. She was getting deflections, loose balls, knocking balls away; she was just very good for us today.”
Mulkey-Robinson said Wyatt’s ability to be a role player “tells you that somebody raised her right. It’s more about the team than it is about herself.”
ON THE BOARDS AGAIN: A day after outrebounding Kansas, Missouri finished the game against Baylor with 38 rebounds to the Bears’ 37.
N’Garsanet led the Tigers with 10 rebounds, followed by Bond with seven.
The first basket of the game came on a rebound and putback.
After Brooks drove in hard and missed the layup, Bond snatched the ball out of the air and put it back in lightly against the backboard, despite being fouled by Baylor’s Chameka Scott.
In a rare show of emotion, Bond pumped her first and nodded her head after the basket.
The rebounding continued on Missouri¹s next offensive possession, when N’Garsanet grabbed another Brooks miss. Though N’Garsanet missed the layup, she was fouled by Young and converted 2-of-2 from the line to put Missouri up 4-2.
“We just came out with a lot of energy,” Bond said. “Everybody was crashing the boards.”
Mulkey-Robinson wasn’t too concerned about getting fewer rebounds than Missouri.
She said she noticed the stat, but thought it was because of several players getting in the game early for Baylor, and Blackmon and Young sitting on the bench.
“I think that just took our team out of the flow,” Mulkey-Robinson said. “I’m not going to say our team got outrebounded today.”