When you think of the great wins in Missouri State Lady Bears history, there are quite a few to go through.
There are countless games Jackie Stiles put on a show — whether it was a 41-point performance in a win over Duke to go to the Elite Eight or dropping 32 the next game in the Elite Eight to head to the 2001 Final Four, just to name a few.
Of course, there were special games in the early ’90s. Melody Howard buried a triple to force overtime and Secelia Winkfield banked in a game-winner right before the buzzer to beat Iowa in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 1992.
Perhaps you want to think of something more recent. A Lady Bears team with one senior went into Ames, Iowa, and knocked off No. 13 Iowa State with a 69-60 victory to advance to the 2019 Sweet 16. A few months later, the Lady Bears, with a new head coach, rallied from down 20 to beat Oklahoma on the road.
Saturday evening gave us our latest installment.
Down 16 late in the first half, the No. 24 Lady Bears rallied for an 81-72 win over No. 12 Maryland — the highest-ranked team MSU has beaten since its 2001 NCAA Tournament win over No. 5 Duke — at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Fort Myers, Florida.
“We really have a special group,” second-year head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton told Tom Ladd during her postgame radio interview. “I’ve said it a million times, from the coaches on down to the support staff, everyone, it just feels awesome.”
Missouri State found itself down 11 going into halftime. A lengthy Maryland team with some of the top recruits in the country made it tough for the Lady Bears to get inside the paint. MSU also struggled to take care of the ball offensively.
“Coach Mox” told her team at halftime to be more aggressive and they listened.
Senior star Brice Calip finished the game with a career-high 26 points — with Agugua-Hamilton adding she “put the team on her back.” Thanks to her aggressiveness getting to the basket and Mya Bhinhar’s 3-pointer with 6:36 left in the quarter, the Lady Bears quickly took a one-point lead.
The Lady Bears outscored the Terrapins 23-9 in the third quarter while taking a 55-52 lead into the fourth.
“I’m just so proud of this group,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “They’re resilient, the fight we have and the poise we have under pressure… We just had to refocus and do what we do, and play our best game, and not worry about the other team.”
Calip’s aggressiveness continued to play a big role in the fourth quarter. She often found herself at the foul line while fellow standout Jasmine Franklin found a rhythm underneath the basket to finish with 14 points.
Calip’s career night saw her go 10-of-14 from the free-throw line. She was 7-of-16 from the field with two shots falling from beyond the arc.
“I thought she was amazing,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “She’s going to guard the best player on the other team and she’s going to show up night in and night out. I’ve challenged her to be more aggressive offensively and she really has owned that. She’s a triple-threat player and I think she deserves all the respect she’s getting.”
It was only the second game of the season for the Lady Bears, but the experienced roster is already showing glimpses of the high-level team that went to the Sweet 16 two seasons ago and one that was bound to make noise in an NCAA Tournament that was canceled due to COVID-19.
Another special season, for a special group, appears to be on its way for the storied Lady Bears program.
“I really just want us to continue performing every game, but also really enjoying the journey,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at email@example.com or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. You can subscribe to his free “Bears Beat” newsletter on News-Leader.com. He’s also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.