DALLAS — A day after saying Iowa State’s four-point loss to Oklahoma probably just angered the Sooners, it took 20 minutes for Missouri coach Cindy Stein’s worst-case scenario to play out right in front of her.
Oklahoma had no problems getting past the Tigers with a 75-54 victory on Thursday in the Big 12 Conference Tournament semifinals at Reunion Arena.
For all intents and purposes, the Tigers’ run in the tournament was over by the end of the first half. Oklahoma (28-4) dominated on its way to a 29-point lead at the break.
For all of the talk before the game surrounding how to stop Courtney Paris, the Sooners’ freshman sensation, Missouri’s early defensive focus was too narrow to stop the onslaught. It wasn’t just Paris who couldn’t be stopped. Missouri got burned by anyone wearing an Oklahoma jersey and the Tigers fell behind 13-0 in the first five minutes.
All season, Oklahoma’s strength has been forcing teams to choose between covering Paris with one player, or doubling her while leaving Oklahoma’s guards wide open for jump shots.
“They took that game plan and threw it right out the window in the first five minutes,” Stein said. “But that’s a credit to how good they are.”
It was the Tigers’ largest first-half deficit of the season and left everybody on the team scratching their heads and wondering how the game, and a chance to play for an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, got away so quickly.
“Just wish we could have it over again and start all over,” LaToya Bond said about the first half.
It was a frustrating first appearance for the Tigers in the tournament semifinals. Shot after shot clanked off of the rim or missed the hoop altogether. Frustration turned into disappointment with Oklahoma practically scoring at will.
Carlynn Savant said the first half wasn’t the worst she’s experienced in her three seasons as a Tiger, but it was pretty close.
“You hope things turn around,” Savant said. “They don’t. It’s a very difficult position to be in, because you try to be positive and tell the other girls that it’s OK. But then things keep happening and it’s not OK.”
When asked why her team fell behind so fast, it only took six words for Savant to sum up the Tigers’ night.
“Their defense, their offense, their game,” she said.
Tiffany Brooks led all scorers with 24 points. But the balance the Tigers showed by putting all five starters in double figures against Texas Tech was absent. Bond, Savant, Christelle N’Garsanet and EeTisha Riddle combined to shoot a paltry 4-for-23 from the field.
“They play a 3-2 zone and we just weren’t moving on offense,” Bond said. “We became very stagnant and just didn’t get any open looks.”
Missouri will have to sweat out the next few days before learning of its postseason fate at 6 p.m. on Monday. Stein reiterated that she thought her team was worthy of an NCAA tournament bid. But waiting is all Missouri can do now.