By Darren Hellwege
After starting the season with three consecutive road wins, Robin Pingeton’s Missouri Tigers women’s basketball team remains unbeaten with a 67-46 win over the Ospreys of North Florida. The Tigers were again led by strong play by experienced players in the post and newcomers on the perimeter.
“It wasn’t pretty at times, but there were certainly some bright spots,” Pingeton said of the home opener. “I think starting off the season 4-0 no matter who we are playing, with a young inexperienced team, you have to be happy with that.”
With the fourth victory in a row, the program is off to its best start in 14 years. The 1997-98 team won its first six, and eight of nine before struggling the rest of the way. That team finished 11-16.
Forward Christine Flores led the way for the Tigers Sunday with 22 points including a perfect day from the free throw line, making all eight of her shots. Her fellow inside presence, BreAnna Brock, added 12 points along with eight rebounds, and freshman guard Morgan Eye had another strong game with 12 points as she hit four of six three-pointers.
Eye wasn’t the only one hitting the long ball, as the Tigers shot 11-21 on three-pointers. “It has probably been awhile since we hit 11 three-pointers here, I know last year we struggled at times, but it is good to see them shooting the ball so well. It is a credit to them for putting in so much time outside of practices,” Pingeton said.
Part of that strong shooting is the overall strategy of “swinging,”—team passing, moving the ball around rapidly. It’s working, moving it around too rapidly for the defense to adjust, so the team ends up finding an open shooter.
“We knew the guards would be open if we were just able to swing the ball,” explained Eye. “We talked about that amongst ourselves and we just had a little better ball movement and found the open looks. They had been there all game, but the guards were on us so tight, we were able to swing the ball and get open looks.”
The Tigers continue to enjoy excellent play from their freshman class, in particular Eye. While not as highly touted as Kyley Simmons or Bree Fowler coming in, Eye continues to play extremely well, following a 16-point performance against St. Louis on Wednesday with 12 more against North Florida. Her 30-minutes played were not only the most of any Tiger sub, but were topped only by 31-minutes played by point guard (and fellow freshman) Simmons. Coming into the game, Eye’s shooting percentage of .579 was tops on the Mizzou roster. And her skill wasn’t just noted by those on her own side.
“(Missouri has) two dominant post players inside, and I thought we did a really good job of battling against them, we just didn’t cover up their shooters, and the Eye kid really lit us up,” said Ospreys coach Mary Tappmeyer. Tappmeyer, who coached at Missouri S&T in Rolla for seven seasons, summed up the Tigers saying, “They’re big, they’re strong, and they really shot the ball really well today.”
Another Tiger who shot well from outside was Liene Priede. After missing her first four shots, Priede finished 3-8 overall to notch nine points, after averaging 13.3 points in the Tigers first three games.
Another statistic that bears watching remains blocked shots. With three more on Sunday, Flores now has 133 for her MU career, to move into a tie for third-place with Tiger legend Amanda Lassiter. While Lassiter, who transferred to Mizzou after playing junior college ball in the San Francisco Bay area, only had two years to amass her record, she was happy to see Flores move alongside.
“Records were made to be broken,” Lassiter said in a Facebook message to this reporter, adding, “I’m glad that Christine is passing me on the list.”
Flores needs 10 more blocks to catch Lisa Sandbothe who is second on the list, and to reach the top and move alongside Mary Brueggestrass she needs 44 more. Flores now has 17 for the season, her mark of 56 from last year would leave her just short of Brueggestrass, but she’s averaging more than four a game so far this year, a pace that would give her the record with room to spare. The single-season record is 71, held by Chinyere “Stretch” James.
The Tigers will take a couple of days off to rest and enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday at the University of Missouri. They’ll return to practice Wednesday and next play Saturday against Wright State. After playing their first three games on the road, the Tigers have a run of eight consecutive games at home. They won’t board the team bus again until January 4 when they’ll start Big 12 play at Waco, Texas, to face the Baylor Bears. Baylor should remain ranked No. 1 in the nation after beating No. 2 Notre Dame on Sunday, 94-81. The Bears are led by preseason All-American Britney Griner.