Almost a month later, the No. 17 Missouri State Lady Bears redeemed themselves from their sole Missouri Valley Conference loss so far by defeating the Southern Illinois Salukis 88-57.
Southern Illinois beat MSU by two on a buzzer beater on Jan. 17. The road loss pushed the Lady Bears out of the AP Top 25 Poll and down five spots to No. 22 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
After the 31-point revenge win, head coach Amaka “Mox” Agugua-Hamilton said it’s time to forget the January loss and move on.
“Hopefully now we can kind of stop talking about the SIU loss because it’s kind of in the rearview mirror at this point,” Mox said. “We have just changed so much.”
That first loss allowed something to click within the team, according to Mox, and the Lady Bears have been different since.
“When I was doing the scout for this game and I went and watched that game, it was like night and day,” Mox said. “To me, our players are completely different now and our synergy is completely different now.”
Junior Elle Ruffridge led the way for the Bears with 16 points and near-perfect shooting, missing her final shot attempt from deep with 3:03 left in the first half. She said the team has seen a new spark since losing in Carbondale.
“It’s been really motivating since we went to their place,” Ruffridge said. “We’ve really been trying to focus on just us — getting better every single game, every single practice — just doing what we need to do to play Lady Bear basketball. And so far, it’s been so much fun.”
For the first time in her MSU career, Ruffridge scored double digits in two straight games — she scored 14 against Drake on Feb. 9. Prior to the loss at SIU, Ruffridge was 1-for-9 from behind the arc, a stat Mox said wasn’t an accurate representation of Ruffridge’s abilities since she considers her “one of the best shooters in the league.” Ruffridge shot 0-2 at Southern Illinois and said Mox called her out on her shooting after that game.
“For me personally, I wasn’t shooting the ball very well, and Coach Mox was flat honest with me and said, ‘You’re not going to play as much as you want to play unless you’re making shots,’” Ruffridge said. “That really kind of fired me up, like putting more time in the gym, getting shots up with Coach Tori (Jankoska) and Coach (Seth) Minter.”
Since then, Ruffridge is 17-for-30 from deep, including 4-for-5 in the Lady Bears’ win. Ruffridge said that mentality is consistent throughout the entire team and every player has worked harder since that loss.
The win gave MSU its 11th this season at JQH Arena, making the Lady Bears undefeated at home so far. Ruffridge and Mox said it’s a goal to win out at home but focusing on the next game ahead is the most important.
“You can’t keep looking at ‘Okay, we have this many games left.’ We just go game-by-game,” Mox said. “This is another change for us to get closer to our ultimate goal.”
The Lady Bears host Evansville at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 21, before hosting Indiana State on Sunday at 2 p.m.