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Checking in with Pingeton’s Tigers, who are ready for SEC Play after odd non-con season

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Mizzou faces Alabama to open up SEC play with most talented squad from top to bottom in years

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 05 SEC Women’s Tournament - Tennessee vs Missouri Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ahead of the today’s SEC opener at 2pm against Alabama, let’s check in with Robin Pingeton’s Tigers. Sam gave you all the pertinent stats thus far in his Study Hall piece on Sunday, but it would help if you were a bit more familiar with the players on the roster, because you’ll see A LOT of new faces on on the bench this year.

The Tigers have a lot of potential, especially when you consider that back in the summer, no one was on campus and they had a handful of transfers who sat on the bench for an entire year, as well as some newcomers. Combine that with two periods of quarantining, and the team, Robin Pingeton mentioned on Tuesday’s Tiger Talk, is not where it should be conditioning-wise. This could explain some of their lapses at times this season; they just haven’t had a lot of time to play together. The team is locked in on what they want to accomplish though, as mentally exhausting as it has been, Sara-Rose Smith said on this week’s Tiger Talk.

So, what are the Tigers doing right thus far? According to Tigers announcer Brad Trenago, Mizzou is currently leading the SEC by a wide margin in offensive efficiency. Specifically, this applies to FG percentage and 3pt percentage. Additionally, they are third in the SEC in rebounding with +12 margin, though Pingeton said sees this as an area of improvement given the rebounding skills of several members of the team.

This is a team, Trenago and Pingeton said on Tiger Talk, with a legitimate 8 starters, something they were missing last year to be sure. From Pingeton:

“A lot of our kids have a scoring mentality, and on any given night, can put up some big numbers offensively. The great thing about this team is that they’re not finding a need to force things or take contested shots. The more they can share the ball, that leads to great looks.”

You all by now should be familiar with Aijha Blackwell and Hayley Frank, the two sophomore leaders on this squad, as well as Nadia Green and Haley Troup, who have been a part of the team for years.

If you rewind to last year’s SEC season, Blackwell scored 13+ points in all but one SEC game, and this year she’s off to a hot start, averaging 14 points a game with 8 rebounds through the non-con schedule. And then there’s this...

In SEC play last season, coming off the bench, Hayley Frank averaged 11.9 points a game, shooting 43 percent from the field. This year, as a starter, she’s averaging 13 points per game and shooting at a ridiculously high clip of 77 percent, though if there’s a gripe, she doesn’t shoot enough, oftentimes selflessly deferring to her teammates.

As for the newcomers, LaDazhia Williams, the transfer from South Carolina, could very well end up being a pro in the future. On Tiger Talk, Brad Trenago called her a “more post-up focused Bri Kulas,” while Pingeton said she has a super high ceiling and a nice face up game. Though she does need work on consistently knocking down perimeter shots and staying out of foul trouble.

Auburn transfer Lauren Hansen was a 4-star recruit in 2019 and Coach P has described her as, “gritty, tough, and relentless,” as well as an extremely high character person who’s ready and willing to take on leadership as she was a starter on her previous Tigers squad. On Tiger Talk, Pingeton praised Hansen for being capable of creating her own shot, and noted she has a quick release and can create off the bounce for her teammates. Hansen said on Tuesday’s Tiger Talk that she’s developed quite a partnership with Aijha Blackwell on and off the court, citing their similar competitive spirits. From watching this team play this season, that is a great thing.

While it was quite a challenge to get her to the team with intense travel restrictions (she didn’t arrive until a few months ago!!), Australian freshman Sara-Rose Smith brings a wealth of experience to the team from an international level, having been a part of the Australia’s FIBA U-19 World Cup team. Pingeton said on Tiger Talk that she’s growing every day, getting more comfortable with things, and called her a phenomenal teammate based on her positivity and energy.

Freshman Jayla Kelly comes in highly recruited from the St. Louis area and as the no. 72 recruit in the country by ESPNW and has, as Coach P described her this summer, is someone with great size, a great motor, and a physical interior game, while Shug Dickson, the Tulsa/Texas Tech transfer (and St. Louis native) was described as a phenomenal passer with great court awareness. She started 36 games for Tulsa, scoring in double digits in 28 of them, per MUTigers.com, and she’s looking forward to playing in her home state again.

Rounding out the new line up are freshman Mama Dembele and Utah State transfer, Shannon Dufficy, both of whom bring international experience. Dembele, from Spain, was one of 64 prospects chosen to participate in the 2020 NBA Basketball Without Borders Global Camp, and is fast on the court. Dufficy, on the other hand, averaged 15.8 points per game and 10 rebounds at her last school, according to MUTigers.com, and was a member of the winning U-20 Australian national championship team in 2015 and 2016.

After facing Alabama today, the team heads to ranked Arkansas for their first road match up. With the COVID delays, the team has not played in a road match up yet this season (SLU & TX Tech were canceled, respectively), so it will be interesting to see how they do. Keep in mind, Pingeton said on Tiger Talk, that the transfer sit-outs have not been on a road trip in well over a year due to NCAA regulations regarding transfers, and then there’s the freshmen who, of course, have yet to experience travel. With Covid restrictions, the Tigers won’t see a packed arena, but a road game is a road game, regardless. And the Tigers will be ready.