The Mizzou women’s basketball team has returned home. After defeating Missouri State 68-51 in their season opener, the Tigers open up at Mizzou Arena against the new look Bradley Braves.
The Braves finished last season with a measly 4-24 record. Their head coach Andrea Gorski retired shortly after the end of the season, which meant a lot of roster turnover was about to happen. Bradley hired the associate head coach at Northwestern, Kate Popovec-Goss, who is a rising star in the coaching world. Her emphasis while at Northwestern was on the defensive end and she helped develop current Dallas Wings guard Veronica Burton into a perimeter defensive threat.
With a new head coach comes roster turnover. The Braves are returning seven players from last season, including sophomore guard Caroline Waite, averaged 13 points per game last season, sophomore forward Isis Fitch, who averaged 4.9ppg and 2.9rpg, and junior forward Daijha Powell, who averaged 4.7ppg and 3.3rpg. They did lose three important pieces from last year’s team in forward Abbie Draper (North Dakota State, 5.7ppg, 3.3rpg), Sierra Morrow, their leading rebounder with 5.4 per game, and their most crucial loss, Tatum Koenig (Green Bay). Koenig was their star player after Gabi Haack got injured. She averaged 12 points and 3.6 assists per game and totaled 30 steals.
Like Missouri State, it is hard to scout how this team will perform. The Braves have yet to play a regular season game after slightly defeating Mckendree in an exhibition 71-60. Waite and Fitch shined while others did not meet up to expectations.
Although it is early in the season, Mizzou is running on a high after getting back in the win column against Missouri State. Bradley is looking to show they can compete with everyone off the bat. Here are the keys for the matchup against the Braves.
1. Limit turnovers
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Sure, it’s been only one game, and everyone is still working on their team chemistry, but starting off the season with 18 turnovers is not something to forget just because Mizzou got the win. All five starters recorded two or more turnovers. As a team, they dished out 12 assists, so the assist-to-turnover-ratio is going to need work.
The Tigers were very lucky 1) Missouri State wasn’t making a lot of their transition buckets off of turnovers, and 2) they were still making shots. As we all know, non-conference play is the time to polish up deficiencies, but Missouri must start now against Bradley before they get to SEC play.
2. Use height to your advantage
Normally this would not be a key to a game by any means. Mizzou is so much taller than Bradley that, for once, height is an actual advantage. When looking at Bradley’s starting five in their exhibition, their tallest player was Fitch who stands at 6’0.
This is when it gets fun for the Tigers. With the vast height mismatch, Mizzou will want to assert their offense down low in the post, which is what they did against MO State. Sara-Rose Smith was a key factor in the game down low. She recorded her first double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 31 minutes off the bench. Jayla Kelly could very well get into foul trouble again, which does take out a tall player to use for an advantage.
Regardless, Mizzou’s roster is full of taller guards like Katlyn Gilbert, Haley Troup, Ashton Judd and Averi Kroenke who can fill in for the roles of the forwards if they get into foul trouble. The athleticism all four of those guards have can outlast Bradley’s tallest players. If anything is going to lead Mizzou to a victory, it’s going to be their height advantage.
3. Clamp down on Caroline Waite
The bona fide star of the Braves’ roster is Waite. As mentioned above, she was one of their best players last season and is going to be looked upon for scoring and perimeter defense. At 5’4, she is quick and has a fast release point on her jumpers but is also extremely capable of driving to the basket against taller defenders. Basically, she is a lot like Mama Dembele in many aspects.
With the way Popovec-Goss emphasizes guard play against teams who are seen as stronger and more versatile like Missouri, Waite will be tasked with being the on-court leader in shooting, defense and facilitation. If Mizzou is able to defend her and force bad passes to her teammates, then the Tigers will not have a lot to worry about.
Mizzou faces off against Bradley on November 10 at 7 pm on SECN+.