By Darren Hellwege
What started off looking like a bad night for the Missouri Tigers women’s basketball team instead became a historic night for senior Christine Flores as Mizzou roared back from a 15-point second half deficit to beat Eastern Illinois 56-54.
Flores carved her name deep into the Mizzou record book, scoring what is believed to be the first triple-double in Tigers history. Flores had 10 blocked shots and 14 rebounds to go along with 25 points on the night. Flores broke her own single game blocks record (which she held with two others) to climb to second place on the Tigers all-time career blocks list. With 150 blocks Flores trails Mary Brueggestrass by only 27 blocks.
While her individual effort will not soon be forgotten by Tiger fans, the entire team’s performance was extraordinary. Playing with what coach Robin Pingeton called a “hangover” following MU’s loss to Northwestern on Saturday, the Tigers had a first half that could charitably be called poor. The Tigers made just seven of their 28 shots for an anemic 25 percent in the half. Small wonder, then, that they trailed 34-23 at halftime.
Flores said the team’s locker room at halftime was “intense.”
“We know we’re a better team than that,” she said. Yet, the team fell even further behind just two minutes after the intermission, 39-24. But from there, the Tigers clawed their way back behind their most experienced senior.
“Christine Flores had a heck of a game, she sure did. You expect your seniors to take over a game when things aren’t going quite our way. I don’t think I expected a triple-double, but…good for her.”
A three-pointer from Liene Priede followed by a free throw from BreAnna Brock pulled MU back within 10 at 13:07 of the second half, but it was in the final 10 minutes that the Tigers really made things exciting.
Priede completed a three point play to bring the deficit to seven, then consecutive baskets by Sydney Crafton made it 47-44. Missouri pulled within one point at 2:34 on a Flores layup and with just under two minutes to go Flores hit two free throws to give the Tigers the lead 52-51. After an Eastern Illinois free throw tied the game, the Tigers went to Flores again. Her jumper put the Tigers up by two. The Panthers would tie it one last time, but when Flores was sent to the line with the score tied and just 16 seconds left. She coolly made them both shots.
The Panthers had a final possession but their hopes were dashed when the last shot was stuffed by Bailey Gee to give the Tigers the win, setting off a wild celebration among the team and the small contingent of fans. The victory gives the Tigers a record of 6-1 on the year.
Afterwards Pingeton talked of the difficulty of rebuilding the program which has been struggling for so many years. “We’re not where we need to be. So, you’re trying to build toughness and challenge them, and at the same time you’re trying to embrace them and pat them on the back and build confidence.”
That confidence is why players who shot so poorly in the first half were able to keep shooting and contribute key baskets. The best example may be Priede. The Latvian in her first year at Missouri shot just 1-6 in the first half and missed her first four shots of the second. She didn’t allow that to keep her from taking, and making, some very key shots down the stretch. Priede said the support of her teammates gave her confidence to keep shooting.
The Tigers next play at home Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux are 4-3 on the year. Missouri’s men’s team takes the court at 4 p.m. Saturday and fans from the women’s game will be allowed to stay for the men’s game. The men’s team, which is undefeated and nationally ranked, faces Navy.