#10 Missouri v. #7 BYU
First round NCAA action
For the first time in a decade, the Missouri women are playing in the NCAA tournament. It's been a long road back. For the six years of Robin Pingeton's tenure, the Tigers have been steadily rebuilding. After three straight WNIT's, the Tigers' breakthrough season has been rewarded with a NCAA bid. Pegged as a seven seed in ESPN's bracketology throughout most of the season, the Tigers slid to a 10 seed and one of the last four in after finishing the regular season with losses to Kentucky on the road (disappointing but understandable) and Vanderbilt at home (a head scratcher). The team followed that up with a brutal first round SEC tourney loss to an Auburn team they'd defeated at Auburn just a few weeks before.
The team took an entire week off practice after that game, and per all reports game back rested, ready, and playing their best ball of the year in practice. One may treat those reports with skepticism, but we will see what the Tigers bring to the court tonight.
Before we take a deeper look at tonight's matchup, let's take a quick look at the season. The Tigers dominated against a fairly weak non-conference schedule with few top 100 teams. The step up in competition proved to be a challenge for the Tigers, but here is what we learned from the first half of conference play:
Against the easier second half of the conference season, the Tigers performance slipped a bit. They were still a solid team, but inconsistent performance was a bugaboo. There were multiple games where half of the team had negative game scores. In the second Mississippi State game, the total game score for the team was 1.4 on 42 points scored. That is an execrable performance. That statistical weirdness may get a post of its own in the offseason.
Some fading might be expected with two of the Tigers three best players being freshman, and one of them (Porter) fighting an increasing number of nagging injuries.
Morgan Stock really stepped up in conference play, earning 12 trifecta points and a spot in the starting lineup. Correspondingly, Sierra Michaelis fell off the map, whose place she took, fell off the map. Some of that appears to be due to some nagging injuries of her own. Here are the season totals for trifecta points:
By class, that's juniors 78, freshman 76, seniors 14, and sophomores 11.
So what does Brigham Young bring to the table? Their leading scorer is senior Lexi Rydalch, who is averaging a robust 24.3 ppg. She is paired with Kalani Purcell, who snares 12.7 rebounds per game. The only other senior for the Cougars is point guard Kylie Maeda, who coach Jeff Judkins praises as a leader and a calming influence on the team. The 5'-5" Hawaiian is a relatively rare non-LDS player for the Cougars. She doesn't sound the least bit like perhaps the most famous non-LDS BYU alum, Jim McMahon, which is probably a good thing.
BYU has a nine player rotation, but four of their five starters average well over 30 minutes per game. The scoring is very concentrated. If you can contain Rydalch, Purcell, and Makenzi Pulsipher, there isn't much other scoring there. Mizzou has more size than BYU among the people who play the most, which is another positive. I would expect to see Sophie Cunningham, who is likely Mizzou's best defender, on Rydalch all game.
Even though Mizzou is the lesser seed, it is favored by both Fivethirtyeight's predictor and the Sagarin ratings. Mizzou's played a much tougher schedule, but BYU's been to the tournament three years in a row now. This game will probably be close, but with the time to rest and heal up and hopefully refocus, Mizzou should be in good position to win this game.