After a weeklong California road trip filled with sightseeing, a little shopping, a tough loss to nationally ranked Stanford and a tournament championship, the Tigers are glad to be back in Mizzou Arena.
“It’s gonna be nice to be back home where they cheer when we make a basket,” said sophomore Alyssa Hollins, who made the all-tournament team at the Hilton Concord Thanksgiving Classic last weekend. “It was nice to be out there and get away from Columbia, a change of scenery, but I’m happy to be back.”
Missouri will host the annual State Farm Tiger Classic this weekend. Alabama A&M will play Eastern Illinois at 5 p.m. today followed by Mizzou against Creighton at 7 p.m. The Tigers will play again at 7 p.m. Saturday regardless of tonight’s outcome.
If the Tigers beat Creighton, they will play for the championship against the winner of the Alabama A&M vs. Eastern Illinois game, but if the Tigers lose to Creighton, they will play for third place.
In Missouri’s most recent game against Creighton in 1996, the Tigers beat the Blue Jays 69-47. Creighton leads the series 7-6 but comes into the tournament with an 0-5 record this season.
“Creighton has played a tough schedule so far, so their record is a little deceiving,” MU coach Cindy Stein said. “They’ve played Kansas State, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa. They’re always going to be a team that plays hard on defense, they’re always going to rebound extremely well, and they usually shoot the ball really well.”
Senior Tiffany Brooks, who earned the Hilton Concord Thanksgiving Classic MVP honor, said the team’s strategy will be the same for this tournament as it has been for every game: to execute the offense and get stops on defense.
“Creighton’s a great team,” Brooks said. “They’re young, but they’re a great team, and we’re going to have to come in and be in full force. I think they’ve been in a lot of tight games. They played K-State and hung in there for a long time. You can’t overlook any team. Once you overlook a team, you start getting beaten.”
Last year, Missouri beat Murray State to win the Tiger Classic championship for the 19th time since the tournament began in 1978. The Tigers are 5-1 and look to extend their number of wins but try not to think about it too much.
“It’s not something we’re concerned about,” Brooks said. “Yes, we want to win. But the main thing is making sure we’re executing plays on offense and doing little things, like playing good defense, communicating, making the right cuts, the right leads.”
Brooks said the team has to be more focused during tournaments because they don’t have the time to scout in depth on the other team, but it’s an important challenge for them.
“Coach talks about championship mentality,” Hollins said. “It’s good having to play the next day, win or lose, and having to prepare for another team in a day. It’s good for Big 12 tournaments and NCAA’s down the road, not having a lot of time. It’s good practice.”
And whether the team is at home or away, to Hollins, some of the most important people cheering for the Tigers are her teammates.
“It was good because our bench stayed into it a lot (at Stanford),” Hollins said. “It was a be-there-for-each-other mentality. I remember last year, sitting on the bench isn’t easy, because you want to get out there and play. But it’s important that those people stay into the game. That’ll make all the difference in the world.”