The first 16 minutes of the Class 2 semi-final matchup between Couch and Sparta in the 2009 MSHSAA Show-Me Showdown at Mizzou Arena on the campus of the University of Missouri March 19 was anything but a work of art.
Both squads were stricken with largely the same affliction -- shaky shooting, turnovers and a general case of unfamiliarity with the environment they were playing in.
But that was to be expected.
After all, it had been eight years since the Lady Indians had advanced to the state semis, while for the Lady Trojans, their trip to Columbia this year marked the first time ever that they were one of the four teams left standing this late in the season.
But new experience or not, the Lady Trojans quickly shook off their first-half blues in the first two minutes of the third period to post a 59-38 victory over Couch.
The next afternoon, Sparta (31-0) finished off its first-ever trip to state by winning the girls' Class 2 title with a 56-49 win over Canton.
Sparta's key to victory over Couch was a trapping, scrambling type of defense that was a thorn in the Lady Indians' side all afternoon long and wore on the team from Oregon County as the game progressed.
The first period was uneven, ragged and just plain not pretty, although the Lady Indians (27-5) still managed to take a 9-2 lead at the end of the first period.
Tara Combs (eight points) tossed in five of her team's nine points in the first period, giving Couch the early lead.
But as it would later, missed opportunities early on hurt the Lady Indians.
"We were up 9-0 and missed a few shots we would normally make," said Lady Indian Head Coach Cecil Meyer. "So, if we make those, you're looking at 14-0, so we had an opportunity to build a little lead right there and we didn't do it. We let them hang around and then they put it on us."
Couch missed the front end of two straight one-and-ones early in the second and the Lady Indians' first points of the second didn't come until the 3:25 point of the stanza on a hoop from Cassie Roberts (four points).
Meanwhile, Sparta used an 8-0 run deep in the frame to move ahead 16-11.
Whitney Mills got free for a hoop in the paint with 1:13 remaining before the half, pulling the Lady Indians within three at the half, down 16-13. Mills paced Couch with 12 points in the game.
"We felt fortunate at the half. As poor as we played and with the way we turned it over, we felt really fortunate to be only down three," said Meyer.
But that three-point hole Couch was in at the half quickly exploded into a double-digit deficit in the third.
The Lady Indians turned the ball over a couple of times early in the third and Sparta went to town with the Couch miscues.
Especially Tashina Tennis and Brooke Stevens.
Tennis started things off with a trey for the Lady Trojans, followed by a 3-pointer from Stevens. Then, Tennis hit another trey, while Stevens tacked on an old-fashioned 3-point play for a 12-0 run, pushing Sparta on top 27-13.
And Couch just never recovered.
"They came out on a little roll there. In the first half, everybody struggled shooting the ball," Meyer said. "But at halftime, they got it figured out."
With a big lead, Sparta cranked up its full-court defense and continued to frustrate the Lady Indians'offensive scheme.
Couch was clearly out of sync and the Lady Indians were plagued by five-second counts, stepping on the end line and just plain throwing the ball away in the third.
Jessica Jones (six points) hit a layup right before the third-period buzzer, but the Lady Trojans took a 38-21 advantage to the start of the fourth.
"The pressure and how physical they were just took a toll on us," said Meyer. "We see some pressure (in the regular season), but a different kind of pressure. The run-and-jump, you don't know where that trap's coming from. We're used to facing a zone-type press."
And while Couch's defense paved the way to Columbia for the Lady Indians, Sparta's defense did the same.
The Lady Indians could only get within 13 points in the final eight minutes of play, as Couch went into scramble mode, looking to get the Lady Trojans to commit enough turnovers to give the District 2 champions a shot at pulling closer.
But the Lady Trojans did not allow that to happen.
"Our defense usually keeps us in it. We end up giving them 58 points," Meyer said. "If we keep that in the half court, we don't give up nearly that many points. But we had to come out and pressure. We had to force tempo a little bit. And we knew they were going to get some points out of it."
Lizzie Nessling finished with four points for Couch, with Sadee Risner and Jordan Hale logging two points each.