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Missouri Women’s Basketball non-conference in review

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The Tigers ended non-conference play with excitement and energy.

Mizzou guard Aijha Blackwell (33) Mizzou Tigers vs. Southern at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, MO. on Monday, December 20, 2021.
Mikayla Schmidt/Mizzou Athletics

For the first time since the 2017-2018 season, the Mizzou women’s basketball team head into conference play with only two losses. In the ‘17-18 season, the Tigers headed into conference play with a 11-2 record. This season they’ll head into SEC play matching that 11-2 record. Aside from their great play, history was made, heartbreaks occurred and adversity was overcome.

Mizzou faced Columbia University or Lehigh University for the first time in the program’s history, and both of those matchups ended in wins at the Christmas City Basketball Tournament.

The following fact might not have been history making, but for how these past few seasons has been, it is definitely up there: Until their loss at Baylor, the Tigers were on an eight game win streak, their best start since the 2015-2016 season.

There are three games in particular I want to highlight; one of them a win and the other two losses.

Baylor

When you travel to Waco to face the no. 5 team in the country, it will be an absolute test of communication, mentality, heart and hustle. The Tigers are no stranger to delivering upsets that the world believes they have no business doing. [Cough, cough] South Carolina and Tennessee.

The way Mizzou fought until the absolute end in that game, despite the 70-68 loss, proved that they can battle with the best. The underdog mentality, their heart and ability to band together is what led them to fight for the comeback. Even though they only received three votes in AP’s top 25 that week and Baylor stayed put at no. 5, the NCAA is on high alert.

Missouri State

Following the loss at Baylor came the crushing 79-51 loss to in-state rival Missouri State. To MO State’s credit, they are a great team and deserves all the recognition. But on paper, Mizzou should’ve won.

I couldn’t tell you why they didn’t look like themselves, why their shooting was shockingly bad, or why it seemed like their minds weren’t in it. But, like Mizzou does, they did fight until the very end. Even when they’re down bad, they never give up.

Illinois

The Tigers understood the assignment on Mizzou Athletics’ triple-header day, December 22. While football and men’s basketball lost their games later that day, Robin Pingeton’s Tigers traveled to Champaign and defeated the Illini in a crushing 84-65 for the right to brag.

The heart and soul of this team together is undoubtedly one of the best I have seen. When they band together, this team is unstoppable no matter the outcome.

Individually, the players are showing up and showing out. Whether it be scoring, defense, crashing the boards, interrupting the passing lanes, assists, etc., this season has shown the progress from players who didn’t play much last season and the newbies.

Here are my top-five players (in no particular order) whoI want to highlight.

Hayley Frank

She’s been lights out shooting practically all season. She’s third in the SEC in field goal percentage with 54.9% and a scoring efficiency of 1.6, good for first in the SEC. She is also second overall in three-point percentage, draining 43.9% in terms of players who have attempted 60 or more threes. (Lauren Hansen is also on this list.)

per SEC Stats.
per SEC Stats.

Even if her shooting hasn’t been the absolute best, she helped her team in other statistical categories. After her career tying 29 points vs. Columbia, where she won the Christmas City Tournament’s MVP, she hit a shooting slump for two games. But in that slump, she recorded a season high four assists vs. Baylor, distributing the ball when that isn’t her primary role. She ended her slump against Missouri State and continued to improve on her scoring.

Even during her struggles, Frank showed up and left it all out on the court.

Lauren Hansen

Now I’m not going to say that Hansen appeared out of nowhere. That wouldn’t be fair to her by any means. For those who watched her play at Auburn her freshman season, it was clear she was the shooter and carried a lot of the load for the Tigers. She hit a career high 24 points against Drake, draining seven threes, and recorded 18 points against St. Joseph’s and Vanderbilt, respectively.

With Coach P inserting her into the starting lineup, her automatic shooting was bound to happen. To Mizzou fans’ relief, it did. At the Christmas City Tournament, she absolutely exploded. I will admit I was not expecting her to be the primary root of the Tigers’ win. But dang, was she ever!

She scored 34(!) points, shot 12/17 (71%) from the field and drained nine(!) threes. Thankfully for Tiger fans, the game was on ESPN+ so everyone could bask in the glory of her going off.

Another factor is she has expanded her game to driving to the basket and creating her own shot off the dribble from the midrange. She already showed that she can do it from three, so growing her game in that way was definitely huge for Mizzou. Heading into SEC play, whether or not she ends up maintaining her role in the starting lineup (pending Ladazhia Williams coming back full time from her injury), she will stir up opposing defenses with her all-around offensive prowess.

Haley Troup

My gosh, has “The Vet” balled out this season. She reprised her role from last season as being more than just a three-point sharpshooter and is continuously proving why she is one of the most valuable assets to this team.

She is averaging a career high in points with 8.3 and assists with 3.9, but one of the most impressive stats is her assist-to-turnover ratio. She’s totaled 47 assists and 18 turnovers for a ratio of 2.61. The last player to record a better ratio was Lauren Aldridge, who finished with a 1.46 in the 2018-2019 season.

Against Troy, Troup reset her career high in points with 20. Last season, she tied her career high with 16 against Tennessee, the same amount she had in the 2018-2019 season also against Tennessee.

Against Illinois, she appeared in her 100th game in a Tiger uniform. With that came her 500th career point.

Troup has flat out dominated everywhere and is showing her veteran leadership.

Izzy Higginbottom

To this day, I will never understand why Higginbottom was ranked a three-star recruit by ESPN. Was it because she’s 5’7? Or because she’s from Batesville, AR? Honestly, none of that makes any sense. Remember, she scored a high school state record 57 points in the Arkansas 5A State Tournament Qualifiers.

Higginbottom came out swinging to start the season. She showed her shooting prowess in the opening game against Murray State, going 3-4 with nine points. But it wasn’t until the back-to-back games against Saint Louis and Idaho State where Mizzou fans saw her fire away.

Against SLU, she set a career high in points with 17 on 5/6 shooting from the field with three of her makes coming from beyond-the-arc. Against Idaho State, she reset her career high with 18 points on 6/11 shooting, four coming from three. The showing earned her SEC Freshman of the Week.

Izzy is a valuable member of this Tiger squad, earning her role as one of the first off the bench. SEC play will be the truest test to her abilities, and I believe she’ll thrive in it. She is definitely in my top-three for SEC Freshman of the Year.

Aijha Blackwell

There is so much to say about Blackwell and her production this season.

She’s been an absolute force to be reckoned with on both offense and defense. Her big-guard and dog mentality has allowed her to matchup with the tallest players on opposing teams and crash the boards like there is absolutely no tomorrow.

The two best examples were against Baylor and Alabama A&M.

When you matchup against Nalyssa Smith, you already know it will be an absolute battle on both ends. When Baylor and Mizzou faced off, Smith was the leader in rebounds per game. Since then, she is sixth and Blackwell is second. In defensive rebounds per game, Blackwell remains at the top with Smith trailing at third. Against Baylor, Blackwell burst for 20 points and 16 rebounds in the heartbreaking 70-68 loss.

per NCAA Stats.

Blackwell was an absolute machine against Alabama A&M. She put on a show with an outing that I didn’t even expect. She had 20 points and 20 rebounds; that’s practically unheard of. I wrote about her domination in my recap story from that game.

per NCAA Stats.

There is absolutely zero doubt in my mind that Blackwell will go off in the SEC, especially against the likes of Aliyah Boston and Tamari Key, to name a few.

I would be remiss if I didn’t show y’all the full stats of this team. For your viewing pleasure, here are the non-conference statistics.

per NCAA’s overall Stat sheet.

Non-conference play was a hit, now onto the SEC!

Thank you everyone for following along in my non-conference coverage. Hit up the comments section for any takes you have and I’ll see y’all in conference play.