Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator
For three Tigers seniors, there will be one more day in this season. A season with too few victories, but so much growth continues after the Tigers won in the Big 12 tournament for the first time in five years on Wednesday, holding off a furious Oklahoma State rally for a win that puts the Tigers into the second round, where they’ll meet Oklahoma on Thursday.
It’s appropriate that two of those seniors were so key to the Tiger win tonight, at least on the court. Christine Flores found a way to score every time the Tigers needed a basket, leading the way with 24 points and adding 10 rebounds. But BreAnna Brock may have had a more impressive double-double, with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Both showed a lot of guts and strength in a game that started physical, then got more physical, then got almost nuts.
But there was more from the senior class than what you see on the scorecard that made the difference for the Tigers. It was something that came from all three seniors, even though the third, Bailey Gee, spent the entire 40 minutes of this game watching from the bench. They gave confidence.
“We just have to expect to be there,” Brock said following the game. And for some that had to sound a little preposterous. A team with only two wins in 18 conference games, playing against an Oklahoma State squad in a must-win situation, expected to win?
You bet they did.
And for those who’ve watched the club closely, it’s not as crazy as it sounds. There’s been remarkable improvement in this club, as a whole and as individuals. The team that won those two games in recent weeks, and which played incredibly close in losing against very strong teams from Oklahoma and Texas A&M isn’t anything like the team that was getting slapped around in January, when they lost by 44 to Baylor and by 26 to Kansas State and A&M.
It’s a different Kyley Simmons, who has gone from a player who could have an open lane to the basket guarded by Army Rangers and coated in rose petals and would still have looked to pass two months ago to a player who now attacks the basket and draws fouls. It’s a different Morgan Eye, not a three-point shooter but a complete basketball player, on offense and defense. We’ve even seen growth in the seniors, so important as Brock had tough calls go against her and Flores got clobbered about the floor yet they maintained a composure that shined through the whole team in the final moments as just about everyone in the building had to expect another Mizzou collapse like so many we’ve seen over the last few years.
I asked Simmons about the comment, whether they expected to win the game, and she just smiled, as if it were the silliest question she ever heard. Of course they expected to win. It’s an expectation every player on this team now has.
An expectation set up by Robin Pingeton and her staff, but driven home every single day in tough practice sessions by these seniors, Flores, Brock, and Gee.
And it’s an expectation that one can bet will come true a lot more often in the years to come. When the players like Simmons and Eye who are freshmen now are seniors, one can see them playing in SEC conference tournaments in Nashville with a confidence that an awful lot of people will share. Of course Missouri’s going to win, and win a lot, observers will say.
I just hope that when that happens, that the Senior Class of 2015 will remember the class of 2012, and where that confidence first came from. Because wherever BreAnna, Bailey and Christine may be at that point — watching from the stands, or at home on TV — they’ll be a part of the success the future has in store for this team.