Since I stepped on campus in 2016, left in summer of 2020 and moved back to Texas, I was always fascinated by Mizzou women’s basketball. I would find a way to watch every single game, even if I had to pay the outrageous prices for FloHoops. Win or lose, my experience watching this team always made my days better. My junior and senior year, I went a little further in my women’s basketball coverage and wrote two roster previews, 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, for KCOU.
So here I am, two years removed from Mizzou, making a comeback with my 2021-2022 women’s basketball roster preview. As Michael Jordan once said, “I’m back.”
It is no secret the Missouri Tigers women’s basketball team have been in a rebuild for the past two seasons. That’s what happens when you lose Sophie Cunningham to the WNBA and have a team full of young talent.
After a disappointing 2019-2020 season, where they went 9-22, there was promise that the 2020-2021 season could be a breakout year for not only the team as a whole but for Aijha Blackwell and Hayley Frank.
For majority of the 2020 offseason, it was unknown if the season would be a normal 30+ game season, a shortened season or any season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regardless, the team worked hard and prepared for a full season where Tiger fans’ eyes would be peeled on them. The season did end up being shortened. A big question last season was, will the COVID shortened season help the team improve from the previous season’s 9-22 record or will it hurt them?
For the casual fan, they probably saw the 9-13 record as a cause for extreme concern about the future of this program. For the diehards who know what this team is capable of, they probably saw it as a positive result for a young squad.
Last season, six games were either cancelled or postponed due to COVID concerns. Two of those games were SEC games — Vanderbilt ended up opting out of the rest of the season on Jan. 18 and Auburn was postponed due to positive tests and contract tracing tracing with the other Tigers— the latter of which was made up on Feb. 7 where Mizzou defeated Auburn 85-75.
Now here is why last season wasn’t cause to push the panic button: Nine games were losses by nine points or lower, with the majority of those games being against top-25 teams. Missouri was able to secure a postseason bid into the WNIT and played pretty well, despite not having Hayley Frank.
Their biggest struggle was closing out games. If Missouri was able to close out and secure the win, their record would’ve been 15-4 with a NCAA tournament birth a probable possibility. Note: this doesn’t include the SEC tournament loss and the two WNIT tournament losses.
But there’s no time to wallow on the past when the future is just a few hours away.
Without further ado, I present the 2021-2022 Missouri Tigers women’s basketball roster preview.
- No. 20 Sarah Linthacum (Fr., Jefferson City, Mo.)
Linthacum joins the Tigers familial ties roots as her older sister Micah is also on the women’s basketball team. For the Jefferson City High School Lady Jays, she averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior. Her 6’3 frame will allow her to battle on the boards, attack down low and bring defensive depth down low.
- No. 24 Kiya Dorroh (Fr., Tucson , Az.)
A highly coveted recruit in the class of 2021, Dorroh chose the Tigers over the likes of Nebraska, North Carolina, Texas and Vanderbilt. The no. 47 ranked 4-star prospect and top player in Arizona, may be a 6’1 forward but don’t let her size deceive you. She can shoot the three, finish down low, crash the boards and guard the perimeter. Her biggest asset is the ability to utilize those skills to spread the floor. If I was to compare her to any WNBA player, my first thought would be Dearica Hamby of the Las Vegas Aces. Welcome to “big guard U”.
- No. 25 Skylah Travis (RS-Fr., Weldon, Nc./Old Dominion)
Travis is an under-the-radar transfer that Coach Pingeton snagged back in April who did not play for the Monarchs last season due to injury. As a senior, she proved that post players can dominate all around the court. She averaged 20.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, 5.1 steals, 3.9 blocks and 4.9 assists per game. Having a big who can run the floor, disrupt on all defensive ends and sprinkle in a few assists here and there will bring a new dynamic of the center/forward position for the Tigers.
- No. 30 Izzy Higginbottom (Fr., Batesville, Ark.)
Another top-100 recruit, Higginbottom brings a hefty resumé to Missouri. The no. 97 ranked 3-star prospect is another under-the-radar prospect that has the ability to impact Missouri in more ways than I can describe.
History in Hot Springs today!— Hayden Balgavy (@HaydenBalgavy) March 11, 2021
Isabella Higginbottom @izzymoney30 scores 57 points today for @BatesvilleSD. It is the most ever scored in a State Girls Basketball Tournament game. A record that stood for 37 years according to @ArkActAssn!#PrepsOn11@THV11 pic.twitter.com/uHhznC0mFy
The Tigers love shooters. Higginbottom is the definition of a true scoring threat. In a quarterfinal matchup in the class 3A tournament, Higginbottom shattered a 37 year scoring record with 57 points. Izzy is an offensive juggernaut. With her shooting skills and versatility, she will fit into Coach P’s system like a glove.
- No. 34 Neci Trusty (Fr., Houston, Tx.)
H-town stand up! I have been waiting for years for the women’s basketball team to get a player from my hometown of Houston. Trust me when I say that Trusty is arguably the most underrated class of 2021 recruit from the Houston area. Alief Hastings might not be a standout women’s basketball school but Trusty was able to produce and lead her team.
Her senior year, she averaged 16.7 points, 12.1 rebounds and 7.6 blocks per game. Yes, 7.6. Her interior presence on offense is nice but her defensive presence is what heightens her game and makes her standout. At one point in 2019, she led the nation with 8.3 blocks per game and was named Houston Chronicle’s athlete of the week the week before.
Defensive post presence is a big need for the Tigers. Trusty can fill that void the second she steps onto Norm Stewart court.
- No. 2 Sara-Rose Smith (So., Victoria, Australia)
Smith didn’t get much opportunity to hit the court last season. But when her name was called, she showed up defensively. Another member of “big guard U”, Smith showed she can contend for rebounds, put the clamps on defenders and block some shots in her very limited minutes. Expect high defensive intensity when her name is called.
- No. 4 Mama Dembele (So., Manlleu, Spain)
Dembele was the spark at the point guard position Mizzou desperately needed after Akira Levy transferred two seasons ago. She made the all-freshman team after starting in all 22 games, the only freshman in the SEC to do so. Dembele is not the best shooter on the team but you don’t need to be when your perimeter defense and speed haunts opponents dreams. She picked opponent’s pockets 35 times last season, a bit under 1.6 per game. How she wasn’t in any talks for the all-defensive team is beyond me.
There is no doubt she will be the starting point guard this season. Passing lanes watch out because Dembele is watching you.
- No. 32 Jayla Kelly (So., Chesterfield, Mo.)
Like Smith, Jayla didn’t see too much game action. When she did, she showed she was able to impact the offense down low, shooting at a 56% clip-5/9-and sprinkled in some free throws. Kelly is more of a traditional center which separates her from the other bigs on the team. When given the opportunity, she can show why traditional centers aren’t going extinct.
- No. 40 Micah Linthacum (RS-So., Jefferson City, Mo.)
Last season was Micah’s first true collegiate season in the black and gold. Like Smith and Kelly, she also didn’t get much playing time. But she was part of the best bench cheering squad in the country (no bias or anything).
Linthacum is a player I can see blossoming this season when given the opportunity. Like Kelly, she can produce down low in scoring and grab some rebounds as well. She is versatile in her ability to crash the boards and score in the paint. There is a lot more to Linthacum that Tiger fans haven’t seen yet and when given the opportunity, she’ll show why she was the no. 18 forward in the class of 2019.
- No. 1 Lauren Hansen (Jr., Long Island, Ny./Auburn)
It was unknown last season if Hansen would be able to play for the black and gold Tigers. The NCAA granted all transfers immediate eligibility and she was a true impact off the bench. Although her role with Mizzou was vastly different than at Auburn, where she started all but five games, she accepted, took advantage and didn’t cease to impress. Hansen is what I would describe as a true sharpshooter with an extremely quick release, making it tough for opponents to close out on her defensively. Once the ball leaves her hands, you’re doomed.
She averaged 6.5 points per game last season but the most impressive part of that statistics is the percentage of her total field goal percentage vs her three point percentage. Out of her 50 total field goals made, 29 of them were from long range. She shot 50/111 (45%) from the field and 29/67 (43%) from three.
Hansen still has tremendous upside. Although her role is primarily three point shooting, her ability to take mid-range shots and drive to the basket will bring another viable asset especially if they have a small-ball lineup on the court.
- No. 33 Aijha Blackwell (Jr., Berkeley, Mo.)
Honestly, there is so much to say about Blackwell that it would probably turn into a 10-page essay like I had to write in college. Blackwell is one of the three leaders of this team. She wears her heart on her sleeve, brings all the energy, and is an absolute nightmare to opponents. Blackwell is one of the players I wish we could’ve watched with for full sophomore season because she developed so much between her freshman and sophomore seasons, elevating her game to ridiculous heights.
She filled the shoes left by Amber Smith and became a walking double-double. She reset career highs in shooting percentages and rebounds, becoming more aggressive and confident in her skills and leadership. For the first time since the 1997-1998 season, there was a drought of Tigers who averaged a double-double in the season. Blackwell ended the 23 year drought, averaging 14.5 points and 11 rebounds per game.
Her career totals in points stands at 771. There is no doubt in my mind she would’ve either surpassed the 1,000 mark or gotten within a hair of it had last season been a full one.
Nevertheless, Blackwell will continue to shine and lead this team. Like I said before, her sheer presence haunts opponents.
- No. 43 Hayley Frank (Jr., Stafford, Mo.)
Frank is one of the other aforementioned leaders of this Tigers squad. Again, I could write a 10 page paper on her as well. In the past I have compared her to Cunningham and I still stand by that comparison.
Like Blackwell, she also reset career highs in shooting (53% from the field and 45% from three) and rebounds per game (5). Frank also reset her points per game average with 12.7. She was ever so close to joining the highly exclusive 50-40-90 club but wasn’t able to qualify due to shooting 86% from the charity stripe.
Frank is highly efficient everywhere. She probably holds the record for most charges taken in a single season. I do not have the number but it is definitely high. She is a team player, who is willing to sacrifice her body with any chance she gets. If last season was a full one, she probably would’ve been a hair away from the 1,000 point club.
- No. 0 Ladazhia Williams (RS-Sr., Bradenton, Fl./South Carolina)
In her first true season with the Tigers, Williams showed why she was the no. 48 overall prospect in the class of 2017. In the Columbia to the east, Williams barely touched the floor. When she came to Mizzou, it was a known fact that after her redshirt season, she would make an immediate impact. And she did just that.
After a few years of having size deficiencies, Williams became the main post presence at the right time. A true piece to a puzzle that was trying its hardest to find the perfect fit.
Williams wasn’t the biggest threat on the boards, averaging only 4.2 per game, but was she ever so valuable in scoring and blocks. Her 12.4 points per game, all from either the paint or midrange, were a huge asset to the Tigers. Her ability to send the ball back and disrupt opponents offense is so crucial, especially when trying to close out games. She led the team last season with 26 total blocks.
Also if she scores the first points of the game against the other Columbia school like she did last season, Tiger fans will shed a happy tear.
- No. 13 Haley Troup (RS-Sr., Gadsden, Al./South Carolina)
The longest tenured Tiger on this squad, Troup has seen it all. She’s the only Tiger to have stepped on a court during a NCAA tournament and has the experience and leadership of a true veteran. Last season, Troup stepped into a vastly bigger role than what she was used two her first two seasons suited up in the black and gold.
She reset career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and shooting percentages last season.
For the first time in her collegiate career, she played and started in all 22 games. With more playing times means more production. She averaged 7.7 points, 2.6 assists and 2.2 rebounds while shooting 45% and 41% from the field and from three, respectively.
Troup was largely seen as a sharpshooting three point threat, rarely driving into the paint her first two seasons.
Since her role vastly expanded last season, so did her skill set. She became not only a more efficient shooter from beyond-the-arc but she found herself driving to the paint and finishing at the rim a lot more often. She became an all around versatile playmaker as well. Troup truly shined in her RS-JR season.
Troup is the absolute leader of this Tigers’ squad alongside Blackwell and Frank. Her role will be largely the same as last season’s and with a normal schedule, Troup will continue to shine.
This young Tiger squad should not be overlooked. The overall talent of this team is ready to show the NCAA and the SEC what they got. Adversity lies on their shoulders and they are ready and eager to overcome and make Mizzou fans proud.
Projected depth chart:
Point guard: Mama Dembele, Izzy Higginbottom
Shooting guard: Haley Troup, Lauren Hansen
Small forward: Aijha Blackwell, Kiya Dorroh, Sara-Rose Smith
Power forward: Hayley Frank, Skylah Travis, Sarah Linthacum
Center: Ladazhia Williams, Jayla Kelly, Micah Linthacum, Neci Trusty