Tigers Try Lubbock Luck

The University of Missouri's Tigers have had a tough-luck season; at 10-7 overall and with just one conference win to show for their efforts, Missouri must win the rest of the way to finish at .500 in Big 12 games – starting with an effort at 7 p.m. Wednesday night in United Spirit Arena to halt a five-game losing streak. The game will be televised on the Texas Tech TV Network.

A road win against Texas Tech University's Lady Raiders at home – never an easy task, and likely even more difficult than usual after Kansas State University's first-ever USA win on Saturday – would give the Tigers a huge milestone: they last won against a Big 12 opponent with a national ranking in 1993. Such a victory would also break their longest losing streak since the season-spanning 2002-03 streak. Last, but surely not least, it would send them into an 11 a.m. start against Texas on January 29 with both momentum and a home-court advantage. Of Missouri's last five games, four have been on the road.

Going into the game on the heels of their first conference loss, Tech is ranked 12 in the January 24 Associated Press poll and No. 11 in the Jan. 18 national coaches' poll. According to Lady Raider head coach Marsha Sharp, the team is also "anxious to get back on the court."

Saturday's one-bucket KSU win – the Wildcats' first Lubbock victory since 1978 -- came in the final seconds of a hard-fought defensive battle. Much as Tech wants not to repeat that scenario, Missouri wants to avoid another incident like the 63-61 loss handed them Saturday. In much the way Lady Raiders' fans regret the rimming-out result of Erin Grant's 10-foot jumper, Tiger fans wish they could have the last 77 seconds back to find an answer for Kansas' banditry and fast break.

Missouri's head coach Cindy Stein has won two of the eight previous matches between her squad and Tech's, but the Tigers have never won on the Lady Raiders' home court – including a loss during the first round of the 1994 NCAA tournament. Injuries to her starters have hampered Stein's Tigers this season. High scorer Tiffany Brooks, a junior forward, sprained her ankle two weeks ago; classmate Christelle N'Garsanet, the center, has almost completed recovering from an injured foot. Sophomore forward EeTisha Riddle, and freshman guard Kassie Drew are recovering from stress fractures (a foot and leg, respectively). While her upperclassmen have almost completely healed, the younger players are still suffering impaired play.

Tiger prospects certainly looked brighter at the beginning of the year; the squad boasts an AAU teammate of Texas Tech's Alesha Robertson and Brooke Baughman in the person of 6-1 sophomore forward Carlynn Savant, a highly-recruited Euless Trinity High School player two years ago. Joining Savant on the black-and-gold Tiger squad are 5-5 senior Shea Swoboda at guard, 6-3 senior Megan Roney at center, the 6-3 sophomore center Kacey McFarland, 6-2 junior Cherice Mack at forward, 5-7 sophomore guard Blair Hardiek, 6-0 junior forward Tonya Morris, a transfer from Eastern Oklahoma Junior College, and 5-7 junior guard LaToya Bond. The roster lists both Brooks, who transferred to the Tigers from Kansas State, and Drew at 5-11, while both Riddle and Illinois Central College alumna N'Garsanet are listed at 6'3''.

Despite close margins and big early leads, Missouri has come up short time after time -- most recently when Kansas' Aquanita Burras ripped off the basketball and stormed down the court for a lay-up in the closing minutes of Saturday's game.

Brooks lead four Tigers into double figures in that game with 14 points, but Kansas' Crystal Kemp's double-double (22 points and 14 rebounds for the 8-8 Jayhawks, currently 1-4 in Big 12 games), led all scorers. Missouri got 13 points from Riddle in the defensively-driven struggle. Savant added 10 points for the Tigers, who led at the half 31-26; Bond poured in 13 more points, adding half a dozen rebounds and six assists, but despite taking a 56-55 lead at the 11:21 mark, Missouri couldn't dispose of the Jayhawks.

Shadows of a pesky, determined KSU squad who never allowed Tech to amass more than a seven-point lead in Saturday's contest colored KU's performance throughout the game, as the fast-paced second half featured eight lead changes. Kemp's play in the paint amounted to a one-woman run during the closing minutes as she slammed home six points in a row – four of them off her own rebounds. Scoring slowed on both ends of the court for more than three minutes before N'Garsanet's lay-up tied the game at 61 with 3:24 to go.

"It was a well-played, well-fought game," Stein said. "Crystal Kemp was unbelievable on the offensive end. We didn't have any answer." Six ties and 18 lead changes marked the contest; Kansas' interior defense forced the Tigers to shoot from the perimeter early, but the Jayhawks led 8-2 at the end of four minutes on four lay-ups. Bond sank a pair from the charity stripe, but Kansas went on another 8-2 run, sparked by a pair of trays from Erica Hallman.

The Tigers have beaten Northern Illinois, New Mexico, Providence, Evansville, Mississippi Valley State, Miami-Ohio, Saint Louis, and Oklahoma State. They have lost to Iowa, Eastern Michigan, Southwest Missouri State, Stanford, Nebraska, Kansas State, Iowa State, Colorado and Kansas. In four of their losses, they let big leads slip away; with 8:26 to go Missouri led Nebraska by 13, but over the next 7:50 the Huskers put on a 21-10 run to win 81-74. A 28-14 ISU run took away a four-bucket Tiger lead over 11:19 to give the Cyclones a 65-59 win, and a five-point lead at Colorado evaporated under a fifteen-minute span in which the Buffs collected 24 points while holding Missouri to 14. A 22-point lead right after the half was almost not enough to hold of OSU's 21-10 run in almost 10 minutes on January 5, but the Tigers managed a 67-49 victory.

Two Missourians are reliably dangerous from the charity stripe: Savant is perfect in league play over 10 attempts, and Roney is 11 of 12.

Tech's senior center Cisti Greenwalt missed a double-double Saturday by the narrowest of margins, pulling down 10 rebounds while scoring nine points. That was her ninth game this year for double-figures rebounding; the eighth came against Nebraska, where she recovered 12 boards. Erin Grant, junior point guard and de facto commander of the Lady Raiders, has 548 assists in her career; six more will push her into second place in the school's all-time records, passing Krista Kirkland. Grant also had her best three-point game against Nebraska, sinking all three attempts beyond the arc en route to 16 points.

Classmate LaToya Davis has had two high-water marks in the past week: her third double-double of the season came against Nebraska with 13 points and 11 rebounds, the eighth such performance of her career. Against Kansas State she was perfect from the charity stripe and had five rebounds and 16 points to lead her team in scoring.

Junior Chesley Dabbs broke an 11-game streak of scoring in double figures Saturday, finishing with half a dozen points in her 40-minute game. It was her second straight outing with no respite and came in front of Tech's third-best crowd of the season.

Tech defenders combined to hold Kansas State's Kendra Wecker to 19 points in the game, but she did collect the 2,000th point of her career in the 2nd half. Tech gave away only seven turnovers, but Kansas State managed one less.

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