It seems like it was just yesterday when the Missouri Tigers women’s basketball team defeated Southeast Missouri State 62-50. Wait, it was yesterday! Thirty hours after tipping off against SEMO and around 28 hours after the conclusion of that game, Mizzou will face off against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Norm Stewart Court.
WKU has only played one game so far this season, so there’s only a small sample size to go by, but that singular game shows their skillset in a great way. The Hilltoppers faced Vanderbilt in Bowling Green and gave the Commodores a run for their money. Their defense forced 21 turnovers and blocked six shots. On the other side, Vanderbilt also forced 21 turnovers. Those two statistics say a lot about the kind of flow their offense embodies versus how well their defense plays. In the end, WKU dropped the grudge match to Vanderbilt 71-82.
Unfortunately for Mizzou, they will more than likely be without starting point guard Mama Dembele as she went down with an apparent head injury on Sunday and was carried off the court. With Averi Kroenke not dressed out and wearing a walking boot, the Tigers were limited in their point guard depth. Assuming Dembele is out, even if Kroenke is back, the starting point guard role will more than likely be given to Katlyn Gilbert due to both her experience in college basketball and pure talent.
These keys to the game are under the assumption that Dembele will not be available to play tonight which seems like the likely scenario.
1. Limit turnovers
I was hoping I’d be able to go on a two-game streak of not having to mention the Tigers’ achilles heel, but I guess that was wishful thinking. To SEMO’s defense, they’re a scrappy team that’s quick on the defensive end. Missouri’s main issue was the majority of the turnovers were unforced and sloppy. I am not a fan of playing the “blame game” because overall, it’s a team issue. Yesterday’s game was exactly that.
Somehow, Mizzou turned the ball over 23 times. Let that number sink in for a second. If you just saw that number compared to WKU’s 18 turnovers, you would not expect Mizzou to come up with a 12-point win. The Tigers are very lucky their offense woke up in the 4th quarter to bail them out for the win.
Fatigue will probably be apparent with such a quick turnaround, but Mizzou will absolutely have to find some way to block that out and take care of the ball against another scrappy team in WKU.
2. Slow down Jaylin Foster
If I was to compare Foster to any Tiger past or present, it would have to be Aijha Blackwell. (editor’s note: YIKES.) Foster is a 6’0 forward who can crash the boards, create her own shot anywhere on the court and swipe some steals. Against Vanderbilt, she exploded for 23 points, 10 rebounds and six steals on 53% shooting. She is the Hilltoppers’ go to player and their overall leader despite being a sophomore.
With the way Foster asserted herself against Vanderbilt, she is sure to try and do the exact same thing against Mizzou. Slowing her down when she is the top priority for her team has the ability to disrupt the flow of the Hilltoppers’ offense.
3. Pound the ball inside
This is yet another matchup where Mizzou holds a nice height advantage over their opponent. In the starting lineup against Vanderbilt, Coach Greg Collins used an immensely small roster, with Foster listed as the only forward. The other 6’0 player is guard Aaliyah Pitts. The other starters are listed between 5’5 to 5’10.
Assuming the lineup is the same (with the exception of Gilbert filling in for Dembele), the Tigers have an extreme height advantage. This should allow them to pound the ball down low to Jayla Kelly, who has at least a three-inch height advantage over her defender. The disadvantage of this, however, is that schools like SEMO (and presumably Western Kentucky) are able to use the quickness of smaller defenders to get to the ball when passed down low.
While anything can happen with smaller defenders closing in on Kelly (or anyone else down low, really), finding a post player like Sara-Rose Smith or Hayley Frank down low and using the height advantage until it’s not possible anymore will ensure Mizzou gets some points on the board. After that, go shoot your hearts out from three.
Mizzou tips off against WKU tonight at 7 pm on SECN+.