Story by Darren Hellwege
Photos by Kaveh Kaghazi
The Evansville Purple Aces came into Mizzou Arena with little hope for a victory against the 7-1 Missouri Tigers women’s basketball team. Those odds were stacked even higher when senior Chelsea Falkenstein was injured against Tennessee-Martin last Friday. Losing the 6-foot forward meant the Purple Aces would have all the more trouble stopping the Tigers and their two excellent post players inside, which had to worry Evansville coach Oties Epps.
Turns out he had reason to worry.
The Tigers got 25 points each from Christine Flores and BreAnna Brock as Missouri beat Evansville 74-51 Monday at Mizzou Arena. The 25 was a career-high for Brock.
“When the two of us play well together, it opens up the three-pointers,” Flores said after the game. “To open up those, we need to play consistently inside, and when we shoot threes consistently, it opens us up inside.” The Tigers got the threes again from freshman Morgan Eye, who made four of eight for 12 points. Eye is ranked second in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage.
The Purple Aces stayed close to Missouri early, and a basket by Auxvasse, Mo., native and North Callaway High School graduate Samantha Heck made it 17-13 midway through the first half. But the Tigers would go on a 13-5 run from there, and led by ten at halftime. Heck ended up with 16 points playing before a good number of fans cheering for her just a few miles from her hometown.
The dominance of Missouri’s post players was all the more evident in the second half. When Eye hit a 3-pointer with 7:52 left in the game, it was the first time in the entire half a player other than Brock or Flores scored for the Tigers.
“We knew that Missouri’s bigs would get a lot of touches tonight,” Epps said. “Their posts do a great job of looking for each other, being patient when they make a catch, and when they decide to make a play towards the goal they’re aggressive, and their aggressiveness really hurt us tonight.”
While MU coach Robin Pingeton knows she’s getting excellent play from her posts, she also noted what a fine team effort this was, pointing out there were 19 assists on Missouri’s 28 field goals. The Tigers showed some of the best passing sequences we’ve seen from them all year. Flores led the team with four assists, along with four from a player who finally broke back into the starting lineup for the first time this season, Sydney Crafton.
Crafton, who started much of last season, had been contributing off the bench most of this year but got her first start in place of Bailey Gee Monday. Crafton played 20 minutes, scoring four points, and notching four assists and four rebounds. Pingeton has been critical of Crafton’s effort and focus at times, but sees her as one of the keys to success this year.
“She’s marked this year,” Pingeton said.
“She gets an earful every day, and she takes it. She’s got greatness in her, the challenge for her is getting her to empty her tank day in and day out, and play as hard as she can play. And she doesn’t. She takes plays off, sometimes on the offensive end and sometimes on the defensive end. When she’s letting it all hang out, she’s awfully talented. We need more production out of that position. Bailey does a tremendous job from a leadership standpoint, she’s a great teammate, she works hard, but we thought we could get a little more production on the boards and offensively than maybe we’re getting, so we thought maybe it was time to make that adjustment. Now, we just need to get Sydney playing the way she can play.”
The win takes the Tigers to 8-1 on the season. They have home games left with Memphis and Sam Houston State before starting Big 12 play on Wednesday, Jan. 4, with the toughest imaginable game to begin league play: taking on No. 1 Baylor in Waco.
But Flores said the team is moving towards being ready for their final season in the conference. “I think we’re getting there,” Flores said. “It’s a process. We’re young, and that’s not an excuse, we’re obviously talented. It’s going to be an experience, a big eye-opener. But we’re playing as well as anyone in the Big 12 now.”
• The Tigers remain the top team in the nation in shot blocking, although the three from Flores and two from Brock were off the season’s average.
• Brock’s 25 points will move her up in the Big 12 standings. Her pre-game average of 15.8 points a game was No. 7 in the Big 12. Flores came in second, averaging 22.6.
• Flores stands on the verge of a couple of major milestones. Her 25 points give her a career total of 993, just seven away from joining the 1,000 point club at MU. Brock is just 19 blocks short of the all-time career record in that statistic.
- The Tigers play Memphis on Thursday at 5:30 at Mizzou Arena. Memphis is 9-2 on the season after losing to St. Johns 64-60 in the Championship game of the St. John’s Tournament.
- Missouri hosts Sam Houston State on Dec. 30. The Bearkats are 3-4, having most recently lost to TCU 60-49 on Sunday in Fort Worth, Texas.
- Missouri then travels to take on top-ranked Baylor. Not only are the Lady Bears undefeated, but they’ve beaten two of the nation’s best in Tennessee and, most recently, Connecticut. Baylor beat the Huskies 66-61 in Waco Sunday, behind 25 points from All-American Brittney Griner. Both the Lady Vols and UConn were ranked No. 2 in the nation when they faced Baylor.
MU senior forward BreAnna Brock (22) waits for a pass from Liene Priede (32). Brock tied teammate Christine Flores for a game-high 25 points.
Sydney Crafton (21) and Samantha Heck (25) battle for a rebound in the second half.
MU senior Christine Flores (50) has scored 20 or more points in five of Mizzou’s nine games.
Evansville forward Samantha Heck (right) led the Purple Aces with 16 points and nine rebounds.
Mizzou coach Robin Pingeton is 8-1 in her second season with the Tigers. MU has two games left before opening their Big 12 conference schedule against Baylor.
Mizzou guards Liene Priede (32) and Kyley Simmons (15) trap Evansville’s Taylor Ware (24) in the first half of Monday’s 74-51 win.
Freshman guard Kyley Simmons (15) celebrates with teammates Liene Priede (32) and Sydney Crafton (21) during Monday night’s 74-51 win against Evansville.