Nearly two years ago, Missouri redshirt senior forward Jordan Frericks anxiously waited with her teammates during Selection Monday. The Tigers had finished with a 22-10 record and lost in the second round of the SEC Tournament.
“Anticipating seeing us on the big screen or being in the tournament, that’s awesome,” said Frericks as she reflected on the excitement and surprise of getting in. Now, she knows a trip to the tournament is “pretty much guaranteed.” The giddiness that initially came with being selected may now be absent, but Frericks and the Tigers have higher aspirations than ever before.
Mizzou (22-5, 10-4 SEC) is riding a five-game winning streak, rose two spots to No. 11 in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, and is projected to be a 3-seed in ESPN’s latest Bracketology.
During the stretch, Frericks has been playing her best two-way ball of the year. She’s put up 16.6 points on 62 percent shooting while averaging 1.4 blocks and 1.6 steals in the last five games.
“She’s at the peak of her game right now,” Pingeton said. “I think she’s playing so strong, so explosive, so confident. I think she is just soaking up every moment with this team, being able to put on that jersey. She’s playing at a pretty high level right now. I’m excited for her, that’s how you want your seniors to go out.”
Frericks missed the entire 2016-17 season with a torn ACL. She’s made an astounding recovery, averaging 12.2 points and 7.6 rebounds on 53 percent shooting for the season.
Despite suffering a devastating injury, Frericks stayed upbeat. “I know that is a sucky time period right after I’d gotten hurt, but I knew that I still got another opportunity,” she said. “To be a part of something special and to be around all these girls that I love again, and just having another opportunity to play basketball again.”
In her five years with the program, Frericks has seen Missouri go from making back-to-back WNIT appearances to now being on its way to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. At 7 p.m. on Thursday, she will play in her final home game as a Tiger against Vanderbilt (6-22, 2-12).
“It’s been a long journey, but I’ve loved every single minute of it,” Frericks said. “Coming in freshman year and seeing where our program was then and where it has developed now, that’s amazing. Coach P, when she recruited me, said that this is gonna be a program that’s gonna have growth and be somewhere at the end of my four years. It’s cool that that’s where we are now.”
Fellow senior forwards Kayla Michael and Bri Porter will also be honored. Senior night festivities will begin at 6:40 p.m per the Mizzou women’s basketball Twitter account.
Porter is sitting out the year on a medical hardship after tearing her ACL for the fifth time before the start of last season. Michael tore her ACL during her sophomore year and now comes off the bench behind Frericks and Cierra Porter.
“All three of those seniors, it’s probably good dress rehearsal for me today because I got to get it together,” said an emotional Missouri coach Robin Pingeton on Tuesday as she praised each of them for their resiliency. “I’m this way every year with my seniors.”
“They set the standard quite a bit for us,” Sophie Cunningham said. “When they came in, it was a rough time for Mizzou women’s basketball. But where we’re at right now, it’s the highest we’ve been in a really long time. They’ve done a great job for this program.”
The Commodores are in the midst of a five-game streak of their own, but it’s been one comprised of losing. The slump included a 45-point loss to Mississippi State. They’re led by freshman guard Chelsie Hall and senior guards Rachel Bell and Christa Reed.
“There’s not that big of a difference in teams in the SEC and on any given night anything can happen,” Pingeton said. “I think Vandy has as much offensive firepower as anybody does in the league. When they’re hitting their shots, they’re a tough team.”
Missouri has struggled containing scoring-minded backcourts of late, allowing four outbursts of 22 points or more by opposing guards during its winning streak. In the three games the Tigers allowed such performances, they won by just 11 points combined.
Hall, Bell, and Reed have collectively poured in 33.9 points per game for Vanderbilt and have hit 39 percent of their 3-pointers. Containing the trio will be crucial for Mizzou to avoid the upset.
Missouri’s most decisive advantage will be on the interior. The Tigers have out-rebounded opponents by 8.6 boards, while the Commodores have been bested by 5.8 rebounds per game. Frericks and Cierra Porter outmatch Vanderbilt’s bigs and should dominate barring foul trouble.
Pingeton doesn’t anticipate that her team will overlook Vanderbilt, saying that the coaching staff will make it very clear that they shouldn’t. “Even bigger than that, probably, is the fact that it’s our senior day,” she added. “I know that these players will rally around their seniors and do everything they can to make sure we send them off on the right note.”