Tag Archives: Gary Blair

Mizzou women race against the clock to beat Aggies, but time runs out

Story by Lauren Delany
Photos by Derek Klein

Morgan Eye takes a 3-pointer from the wing in the first half. Eye had a career high 19 points in her sixth consecutive start.

Despite a 56-52 loss for the Tigers Tuesday night, the players are holding their heads high. The Tigers, now 0-13 in conference play, fought a tough match against the defending national champion Texas A&M Aggies, who are currently ranked 14th in the nation.

Missouri is still searching for its first conference win, but close losses like these show the team’s improvement during the season. “If we allow ourselves to be defined by that scoreboard, it’s going to be a miserable season. But we’re laying a foundation and we are absolutely going to focus on these little victories that we continue to have,” said Missouri coach Robin Pingeton

A loss doesn’t seem like a victory, but it can be considered one when considering how hard the Tigers fought for a win on Tuesday night.

The Tigers got off to a slow start, giving up six turnovers and only throwing up five shots in the first six minutes of play.  The Aggies quickly pulled ahead 8-3 after gaining control on offense, but seven minutes into the game freshman guard Morgan Eye hit a clutch 3-pointer to rally the Tigers. A minute later Eye got the ball again; she gave two quick pumps fakes and shot the jumper, sinking the shot.  Eye tied the game at 8, but Texas A&M’s senior guard Tyra White hit a jumper to give them the lead.  Seconds later, Missouri senior forward Christine Flores countered the Aggie basket with a 3-pointer, pulling the Tigers ahead 11-10.

The teams alternated taking the lead throughout the first half; the score was tied twice in the first half and the lead changed four times. The Aggies began to pull ahead after junior guard Adrienne Pratcher hit a key jumper and junior center Kelsey Bone made a layup.  A growing disappointment grew among the Tiger fans as the Aggies pulled ahead, but Eye answered the fans’ grumbles by sinking three consecutive 3-pointers, shrinking the Texas A&M lead to 27-26. Eye shot 4 of 7 from behind the arc and had 14 points in the first half. With five seconds left to go in the first half, Flores hit a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to tie the game at 29.

Though the Tigers were able to tie the score at the end of the half, it wasn’t an easy journey.  Missouri fought a constant battle against the shot clock, throwing up many rushed shots and losing the ball to Texas A&M on defensive rebounds.

Neither team shot very well throughout the game, but the Tigers improved their rebounding as the half progressed and were also able to step up their defense. On defense, Missouri held A&M’s lead scorer, White, to eight points. White averages 14 points per game, but Missouri’s tight zone defense stopped the Aggies from running up the score.

“Their zone defense was good defense, they had players covered most of the time. Naturally we had some open shots that we missed and needed to hit, but their 2-3 zone was pretty effective on us,” said Aggie freshman guard Alexia Standish.

Pingeton was also impressed with the Tigers ability to put pressure on the Aggie offense. “I was really pleased with their half court defense, I think they played with their eyes, understood the scouting report, were assignment cracked; I thought they did a really nice job of clogging up the inside…overall I was really pleased with our half court defense,” Pingeton said.

The Tigers maintained the lead through the majority of the second half.  Pressured by the shot clock, freshman guard Kyley Simmons sunk a 3-pointer, which sparked the Tigers scoring binge.  Eye hit a jumper and senior forward BreAnna Brock made a free throw to keep the lead in their hands.  Shortly after, Flores made two consecutive 3-pointers to send the Tiger lead up to 43-38.

Missouri fans were ecstatic, thrilled with the possibility of the Tigers’ first conference win this season. The fans continued to cheer loudly and encourage the players to finish the game with a win, but the game took a downward turn for the Tigers when the Aggies made three crucial free throws and a layup to tie the game at 45 late in the second half.

It was a fight to the finish, with both teams making vital baskets to keep hope alive. The real contest was in the last minute, when the Aggies scored a layup to take the lead 52-50. Tiger players Eye and Sydney Crafton fouled the Aggies with under 30 seconds to go, and Texas A&M made all four free throws. When the Tigers gained control of the ball, Flores made a quick jumper but it wasn’t enough to redeem the Tigers’ lead. The Tigers fell in a hard fought match to the defending national champion Aggies, but it wasn’t the first time they faltered in a close game.

This season, the Tigers have lost three other home matches by less than four points: Northwestern (74-40), Oklahoma State (62-58), and Oklahoma (62-59). Against Northwestern, Missouri had the lead with under 3:30 left in the game but couldn’t put a stop to the shots fired from the Wildcats. Against Oklahoma State, Missouri just couldn’t hit the final shots to even the score, and the game against Oklahoma followed a similar story.

Pingeton attributes these kinds of losses to the Tiger’s inexperience in the down-to-the-wire game situations. “We’re young and inexperienced and have players on the court that just haven’t been through it before at this level,” Pingeton said.

Despite the inexperience, Texas A&M coach Gary Blair was impressed with the level of intensity the Tigers brought to the court. “Missouri outplayed us today, they should’ve won the ball game,” Blair said.

The Tigers will continue their search for a conference win on Saturday, Feb. 18, when they face Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. The Tigers are ready to face their rivals for what could be the last time in a long time, but they are hungrier for a conference win.


Realignment soap opera leaves Big 12 coaches at odds

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Darren Hellwege, sports commentator

Colorado and Nebraska are gone. Texas A&M’s out the door and Missouri may well follow. Four schools from Texas and Oklahoma are going to the Pac-12…oops, no, wait a second, they’re coming back now. It’s the kind of confusing, bewildering, and, for some, enraging situation that can cause friction even among long-time friends like Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey Texas A&M’s Gary Blair.

Conference realignment dominated the conversation as the coaches and top players in Big 12 women’s basketball met at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday for the annual Media Days, an opportunity for the media to get a preview of the 2011-2012 season. Coaches and athletes nine of the 10 league schools were there. Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly missed the event due to treatment for what the school has called an “invasive cancerous lesion” on his vocal cords.

While most coaches avoided direct controversy and danced around whatever unhappiness they may hold about the changes, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey perhaps demonstrated how deep the anger some feel about the shifting sands of who is and is not in the Big 12, particularly between Baylor and Texas A&M.

Asked if the Lady Bears would continue to play against the Aggies in non-conference play in the future, Mulkey said, “I remember Texas A&M’s president with these quotes, ‘it’s like a marriage, when it’s over it’s over.’”

Mulkey continued, “Who wants to be in a relationship that’s over and has no value for you? And that stuck with me. And my feeling is this,” she continued, “If a man wants to divorce me, and says our relationship has no value to him, and then asks if he can sleep with me, the answer is ‘No!’”

Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson was asked about the potential end of the rivalry with Missouri, which might leave to join the Southeastern Conference. She said, “I think this rivalry belongs in the Big 12. It’s been good for us and it’s been good for them (Missouri) moving forward we’d like it to be what it is.”

Asked later if she would schedule a non-conference game with Missouri, Henrickson firmly re-stated her earlier point. “This rivalry belongs in the Big 12. It should be in the Big 12. Institutionally, I think we all feel the same way.”

Fortunately, there was also some basketball discussed on Wednesday.

Texas A&M’s Blair: “We’re looking forward to defending the national championship. You don’t talk about winning another until you defend it the way a champion should.” Blair mentioned that he expected leadership contributions from senior Tyra White, and from highly-touted transfer Kelsey Bone, who joins the Aggies after leaving the program at South Carolina. Both the Aggies and Baylor are ranked in the top 10 in most preseason polls.

Texas Tech, which has climbed from 5-11 two years ago to 8-8 last season, should see continued improvement said coach Kristy Curry. “That comes from being more consistent, night in, night out, and from accountability, doing the little things that make a difference every day.”

Baylor’s Mulkey mentioned that her stars, Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims, gained a lot on and off the court by participating with USA basketball teams. “Every time they have a basketball in their hands, they get better.” That’s a frightening prospect, given that both Griner and Sims are on the preseason All-Conference team, and Griner was a unanimous All-American last season.

Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale has to replace three-time All-American Danielle Robinson, now playing for the WNBA San Antonio Silver Stars, but looked to the future as she talked up her outstanding freshman class. “They want to do things right. They want to be good. They want to play well,” Coale said. The Sooners also welcome back to full health Whitney Hand, who missed most of the 2009-2010 season and much of last season with a major knee injury.

Losing a superstar to the WNBA is no news to Coale’s cross-state rival. Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke watched one of the best players in OSU history, Andrea Riley, leave for the pros (Tulsa Shock) and gave the monumental task of replacing her to a freshman, Tiffany Bias. “I think she had a very solid year. But I’ve already seen in practice her leadership, the ball handling, the moves to the basket, her shot is better, I think you’re going to look up and see Tiffany Bias be 15 points a night, minimum.” The OSU coach will count on younger players like Bias for leadership—the Cowgirls’ roster has only three juniors and not a single senior.

Texas coach Gail Goestenkors has no such problems. While the former Duke coach hasn’t been as successful as Longhorns fans would have wanted, she’s looking for a big year with the boost coming from three talented seniors. “Ashley Gayle, Ashleigh Fontenette, and Yvonne Anderson have been with me through their careers, so they know what I want, what I need, what I expect.” The team also adds former Big 12 all-freshman player Cokie Reed, who missed all of last year with an injury.

Kansas State’s Deb Patterson said the new round-robin format of Big 12 play will establish the Big 12 as the number one competitive conference in the nation. “I mean, even before you play a game, you look at the matchups top to bottom and it’s mindboggling.” Coach Patterson also said that while they have “great respect for Missouri and the matchups we’ve always had,” she expects new rivalries to emerge should Missouri leave for the SEC. The Wildcats return what Patterson called a “solid core” of players in Mariah White, Jalana Childs, Brandy Brown and Brittany Chambers.

Kansas’ Bonnie Henrickson teams have been to four consecutive WNIT’s but haven’t seen NCAA tournament play since 1999-2000. Asked if this was the year the Jayhawks break through, she said the difference with this year’s club was the “maturity standpoint and the experience standpoint.”

Here’s my prediction for the season’s standings.

1. Baylor  Ridiculously athletic and talented, Griner could be best ever in women’s hoops.

2. Texas A&M  Defending NCAA champs still have a lot of skill in their final year in Big 12.

3. Texas  Goestenkors on hot seat, but unlike most in league has luxury of strong group of seniors.

4. Oklahoma  Probably too young to finish much higher, but there’s a lot of size and strength here and getting Hand back will be big.

5. Texas Tech  Once powerhouse, Tech may be building to dream year with 12 returning from last year’s 22-11 team, only two are seniors.

6. Iowa State  Nine returning from team smarting from upset loss in NCAA first round. They’ll be playing with a lot of heart with coach Fen’s illness an inspiration. No tougher place for road teams in the league.

7. Kansas State  Like Texas and Tech, experienced team with eight returning letter winners led by guard Chambers.

8. Oklahoma State  Barely topped .500 last year, Toni Young is a monster and sophomore Bias and strong freshman class have future looking bright in Stillwater.

9. Kansas  Four starters back from 21-win season but only one victory over ranked teams. That a team this strong is ninth says a lot about competitiveness of this league. They have to play better on the road.

10. Missouri  Pingeton looking to the future, Tigers need some real breaks for this team to rise above the cellar. Starting freshman at point guard could look brilliant in a couple of years.

(The Big 12 has changed to a double round robin format for conference games this season. The teams will play each other twice for a total of 18 games.  The team or teams with the highest winning percentage will be the regular season conference champions.)

The Big 12 Media Days continue at the Sprint Center on Thursday with the men’s teams being featured, including new University of Missouri coach Frank Haith. Haith will be accompanied by seniors Marcus Denmon and Kim English.