These Tigers are winning

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The Missouri women's basketball team knows there's no shame in shooting for second.

The Tigers are the school's success story on the court, overachieving while the men have struggled around the .500 mark. The women had been unbeaten in 11 home games before losing to conference-leading Oklahoma on Saturday, a victory that propelled the Sooners into the Top 10 and gave them a three-game lead with only seven games to go.

The loss leaves Missouri in the battle for runner-up. The school was in a three-way tie for second with Baylor and Texas A&M.

"Can we catch Oklahoma?" coach Cindy Stein said. "We've lost control of that. So now we've got to just work on us."

Despite that setback, Missouri (16-5, 6-3 Big 12) has a shot at only its third 20-win season since 1989-90. The Tigers made it into the Top 25 earlier this season for the first time since 1984-85, and are among the top teams also receiving votes this week.

They'll try to re-establish the momentum they've built all season tonight at Iowa State.

"Things happen, we've just got to bounce back from it," guard LaToya Bond said. "We just have to learn from it and keep moving on."

This has been a resurgent year for Missouri, which was 11-18 last season. All five starters are back, giving Stein her most experienced team in eight seasons at the school.

They had a 12-game winning streak, second-longest in school history, early in the season. The 16-4 start was one game off the best start in school history after 20 games and they knocked off No. 4 Baylor last month. Carlynn Savant leads the nation in 3-point accuracy.

This from a team picked by conference coaches to finish 10th in the Big 12.

Oklahoma led by 20 at the half in the latest game, yet never felt that comfortable.

"I never felt like they felt they were out of the game," Sooners coach Sherri Coale said. "Until about the 3-minute mark I never felt like they thought it was over, and that's a very important trait to develop."

Missouri had been coming off its biggest victory of the year. Three days earlier it faced a 22-point deficit in the first half at Kansas State before rallying to win in overtime on Bond's basket with 3.6 seconds to go.

So, there was no shortage of confidence entering the game against Oklahoma and super freshman center Courtney Paris. Bond had another big game with 30 points against the Sooners, and on Monday was named conference player of the week.

Still, Stein knows Missouri must play better to hang with the premier teams. She estimated that the Tigers played according to plan less than half of the time against Oklahoma.

"Those are things we knew we were going to be able to gauge this game on, what we needed to work on still and the things we could develop a little bit better," Stein said. "Obviously, it gives us a good gauge."

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