DALLAS — She’s the epitome of a role player, and that’s just fine with her.
Close behind LaToya Bond and Christelle N’Garsanet, Missouri’s stars, there’s been a handful of humble cohorts offering support. They’ve provided defensive, scoring, rebounding and emotional assistance as needed, stepping up when called upon. Trailing 18-8 more than seven minutes into Wednesday’s game, the Tigers needed a boost.
“I was just trying to get us hyped, get us focused, because we had a week off and (Texas Tech) did play yesterday,” MU’s EeTisha Riddle said. “I was just trying to get after it on defense and they fed off my energy, and that’s pretty much my role. Get everybody pumped up.”
That has been Riddle’s job much of this season. She’s had tough defensive assignments, sometimes out of position because of her abilities according to Missouri coach Cindy Stein, and she’s given energetic spurts that set the tone for her teammates.
Stein saw her team looked flat compared to the Red Raiders, who played their way into the second round with a win Tuesday. Stein said it was “like pulling juice out of concrete” trying to get her players to respond early. So Stein called a timeout with 12:55 left in the first half, and out of the huddle came Riddle to grab a rebound. Then she had an assist, and about two minutes later, hit short jumpers on two straight possessions on her way to scoring six points in a two-
minute period culminating in a 22-21 Tiger lead.
“I just wanted to be more aggressive ... I thought that would be a boost for us if I could attack,” Riddle said.
Riddle attacks with nearly every movement she makes. As well as Bond bounces the ball on the floor, Riddle bounces off it with every step; her movements are quick and concise. She cuts hard, crashes the glass hard and is tough on defense. Sometimes that means she fouls — hard. But that energy also earned her Big 12 Conference All-Defense team honors.
Riddle’s role, besides the infusion of hustle, was multi-faceted Wednesday. She finished the game with 11 points, eight rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal.
“’Tish was unbelievable,” Stein said. “’Tisha in many ways is our emotional leader anyway. She really gets our team up and going. She did an incredible job defensively and offensively.”
Offensively her directive is screening for Bond and catching the ball in the high post. In the waning moments before halftime, Riddle caught the ball at the free-throw line, and dished to Bond for a layup. Instead of converting, Bond was fouled, but she made the free throws and the next time down took an identical pass on the opposite side of the paint from Riddle, sinking a short jumper. Riddle then finished the half with a blocked shot, and another assist, this one to Tiffany Brooks, putting Missouri up 37-33. MU never trailed in the second half.
END OF AN ERA: Sitting emotionless, Marsha Sharp suddenly empties the Texas Tech bench of herself in a flurry of movement that begins in her legs, and ends in a sharp refrain from her mouth.
She doesn’t like a shot that’s been taken, even though it goes in.
Sharp is retiring after this season, already a member of the women’s basketball Hall of Fame.
With 24 seasons of coaching now behind her, the coach doesn’t give Red Raider Patrice Edwards much room to argue the shot selection in question. Once Edwards approaches Sharp, the coach’s calm returns, drawing in a deep breath before explaining the mistake in a deeper southern draw.
Sharp, 572-189 in her career, went to the hospital with a heart ailment earlier in the year, though she says now that her health is OK. She will be honored between games during today’s semifinal round. She won one NCAA National Championship at Texas Tech and was twice named National Coach of the Year. This season the postseason is a rather large ‘if’. She made her case for the Red Raiders in the NCAA tournament known afterward Wednesday’s game. Stein agreed that Texas Tech deserved to be in based on the strength of the conference. Yet after Wednesday’s loss, Sharp’s team is 15-14, making the NIT, if any tournament, more likely.
Sharp also talked about the distractions of life after her announcement to retire two weeks ago, and her task of keeping a team’s focus on the court. Missouri, too, felt that distraction slightly for a day, but prevailed nonetheless.
“We did not want to be the team to beat Texas Tech because of Marsha Sharp,” Stein said.
“Marsha Sharp is an outstanding coach and we think the world of her.”
UP NEXT, PARIS IN DALLAS: In a 15-point loss to Oklahoma on Feb. 4 in Columbia, the Tigers held Courtney Paris to 27 points, 16 rebounds and one blocked shot.
Missouri is allowed to call that a defensive hold after seeing Paris put up 36 points, 16 rebounds and 6 blocked shots Wednesday against Iowa State.
“What number is she again?” coach Cindy Stein jokingly asked responding to a question about Paris.
No. 3, big girl, she was told. The numbers she puts up today will go a long way in determining whether Stein is still laughing tonight. Her 21 points per game and 14.8 rebounding average helped carry Oklahoma to a 16-0 regular season Big 12 finish.
“Courtney Paris is a great player ... We’ll try everything we can,” said Stein of stopping the Sooners’ center.
Missouri and Oklahoma tipoff at 6 p.m. today.