With 10 seconds left in Missouri’s women’s basketball game against Oklahoma State, coach Cindy Stein began walking to the Cowgirls’ bench to shake hands with coach Kurt Budke.
After congratulating Budke, Stein turned on her heels, followed by assistant coach Matt Daniel, and walked off the court. Stein paused to throw her gum into a black trash can before going through the tunnel. There was no smile on her face.
The Tigers (14-10, 2-9 Big 12) lost to Oklahoma State 83-57. It was another loss where the Tigers allowed their opponent to jump to at least a 20-point lead by halftime. But for this loss, there was no miraculous second-half comeback, no player who sparked the team, no time when the outcome might be in question. Just simply another loss.
“It’s hard to explain this one,” Stein said. “So I’m not sure I have all the answers to that, obviously. We came out very, very flat, was flat most of the game. First time all year that I felt like we were a step slow all night.”
Missouri allowed 20 unanswered points in the first half while only shooting 29.2 percent. All night, Oklahoma State (17-7, 5-6) was sharp on the perimeter as well as in the paint. The Cowgirls’ 16 fast-break points and 14 steals made the Tigers look lethargic.
“Most people who have been around Mizzou basketball know I don’t like to call timeouts,” Stein said. “I like to keep my timeouts in the bag for any kind of last-second stuff. Obviously, you want to stop people’s momentum. For me to call, I think three timeouts in the first half, is very rare. We usually don’t have to. We can usually stop somebody’s run without doing that.”
Stein was uncharacteristically quiet during the second half of the game. She was either standing with her arms folded or squatting catcher-style, chewing her gum with her brow furrowed. The referees received no vehement scoldings. Wild shots weren’t criticized. Her voice, when used, was quiet as the deficit steadily increased.
In one of her more animated moves of the second half, Stein was sitting cross-legged on the bench when Cowgirls freshman Andrea Riley stole the ball with under three minutes remaining. Stein’s raised foot quickly met the ground with a stamp.
“It wasn’t a game that I felt like was a tactical game,” Stein explained. “This was just a game where we were out of sync. We were trying to find a rhythm all night, trying to get a group out there that would play the way we wanted them to play, as aggressive as we wanted them to play.”
Tigers senior Tiffany Brooks was the high scorer with 12 points. Senior EeTisha Riddle was right behind with 11. No player, Tiger or Cowgirl, had more than six rebounds.
Stein said the poor performance, the worst of the Tigers’ season, was partly stress related. But with seven seniors, that problem shouldn’t be an issue. With two good practices and a good pregame warm-up, Stein couldn’t pinpoint a cause to the loss.
“It’s tough for them; it’s tough for all of us,” Stein said. “If you put a blame on anything or anybody, you put it on me. Obviously, I’ve not found the answer for us, so that falls on me.”
Poor first half play has plagued the Tigers, especially in their past two games.
“I think we’re just not in the attack mode,” Brooks said. “We wait and see what the other team is going to do and we try to match that. We got to start coming out at the jump, ready to attack.”
During the press conference, Brooks was asked who was taking the losses harder — the team or its coach. Before answering the question, with the hint of a smile, she exchanged glances with her coach who was sitting at the back of the room.
“I’d have to say the team, probably,” Brooks said. “I know coach Stein’s worried about us, but I think the team is taking it pretty hard.”