On Monday, November 7, the 2022-2023 Mizzou Women’s Basketball team kicks off with an away matchup against in-state rivals, Missouri State. If you recall, a once promising season for the Tigers turned into dismay as players were suspended - some for significant stretches - and two large losing streaks plagued them.
Even with their 18-12 regular season, which included a win over top-ranked South Carolina on December 30, and their one loss in the SEC tournament, the Tigers were still projected to get into the NCAA tournament. They held a watch party but when it was all said and done, Mizzou found themselves on the outside looking into a tournament that should have included them.
They did clinch a WNIT berth but dropped that game to Drake 78-83 at Mizzou Arena. The glimmers of hope of a long postseason run in the WNIT shut right before their wary eyes. Shortly after the season’s conclusion, LaDazhia Williams (LSU), Kiya Dorroh (Colorado State), Izzy Higginbottom (Arkansas State) and star Aijha Blackwell (Baylor) announced their entrances into the transfer portal.
This season’s Tigers are hungry for a trip to the big dance. With some talented newcomers and star returners, this team of 12 women are ready and eager to take the court in front of the Tiger faithful.
- No. 21 Averi Kroenke (Fr., Columbia, MO)
Kroenke’s ties to Mizzou mirror those of two teammates and a former Mizzou star, as her entire family went to Mizzou and she’s known all along she wanted to be a Tiger. Sound familiar? WNBA star and Columbia native Sophie Cunningham only wanted to represent not only her hometown but her state. The Linthacums also wanted to stay local.
The former Rock Bridge star worked hard to get to where she is now. In the ESPN HoopGurlz class of 2022 rankings, Kroenke was marked as a 4-star prospect and the 74th ranked player in the nation (no. 2 in Missouri).
As a senior, Kroenke averaged 16.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists and two steals per game. The 5’11 guard will bring much needed rebounding and scoring to the team. Another great asset is her perimeter defense. Having Kroenke come off the bench to give a reinforcement defensively will take pressure off of Mama Dembele.
- No. 24 Ashton Judd (Fr., West Plains, MO)
Judd was an under-the-radar recruit in Missouri who, quite frankly, not enough people talked about. The 6-foot guard/forward was unranked by major recruiting sites, which was more than likely due to playing for a Class 5A high school rather than a lack of talent. Judd led her team to a State Championship and District Championship while putting up ridiculous numbers. During her senior year, the Missouri Class 5 Player of the Year averaged 26.1 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and shooting 39.7% from the three-point line.
After a highly successful AAU summer with the Missouri Phenom that led to a tournament win, Judd started receiving offers from all over the country. She took visits to South Dakota, Colorado State, Kansas City, Wichita State, Belmont, Providence, Kansas City and Illinois State before ultimately deciding on Mizzou.
Like Kroenke, Judd embodies a special and versatile skillset. She crashes the boards, can stretch the floor with her ability to be a three-level scorer and will dish a few assists here and there. Judd will be another great bench asset for the Tigers, and I would not be shocked if her minutes increase periodically throughout the season.
- No. 34 Da’Necia Trusty (RS-Fr., Houston, TX)
Trusty did not appear in any games last season, taking a redshirt. When she is given the opportunity on the floor this season, she’ll be a much-needed post presence for the Tigers.
Her final year of high school in Houston (2019-20), she averaged 16.7 ppg, 12.1 rpg, and 7.6 blocks per game, earning First Team All-District honors.
Note: Neci did not play in the team’s only exhibition matchup; Coach P said she was injured on the postgame radio show.
- No. 20 Sarah Linthacum (So., Jefferson City, MO)
The only other remaining player left in her recruiting class, Sarah Linthacum did not get a lot of playing time last season, only appearing in 15 games for a total of 79 minutes. Her greatest asset in her limited minutes, however, was her rebounding. On the season, she grabbed 14 total, including 10 offensive and 4 defensive.
With the roster smaller than last year’s, the former Class 6A All-State player will be expected to take on a larger role in scoring (she shot 63% from the field last year) and rebounding.
- No. 2 Sara-Rose Smith (Jr., Victoria, Australia)
Last season, Smith showed everyone what she is capable of, playing in all 31 games while getting one start. Her minutes per game elevated from 4.3 her freshman year to 10.2 last season. Her points per game also rose significantly, from 0.2 to 1.5. Smith’s presence was felt in the post with her scoring — 44% shooting from the field — but also with her rebounding and defense.
Sara-Rose averaged 2.3 rpg, grabbing 72 in total, and added two blocks and seven steals. This season, Smith has the opportunity to continue to capitalize on her growth with way more playing time. Her energy on defense is especially crucial for the Tigers who need so much help down low.
If her role remains on the bench, I see her as a strong contender for SEC 6th player of the year. She is due for a break out season. It’s all dependent on how she is utilized.
Note: In Mizzou’s only exhibition game of the new season, Smith was first off the bench and played a team-high minutes, scoring 8 points on 3-6 shooting (1-3 from three), to go along with 12 rebounds. That’ll do.
- No. 4 Mama Dembele (Jr., Manlleu, Spain)
Mizzou’s point guard continues to grow on the court, and it is a sight to see. Mama Dembele grew her game on the offensive side last season, especially with shooting. She is a true driver to the rim, despite standing just 5’6.
Flash back to the upset against South Carolina. Mama recorded 11 points and hit two critical three pointers when the team needed her scoring most.
Just like how Haley Troup owns Tennessee, Dembele owns Arkansas. Her best scoring games in the regular season were against the Razorbacks. On January 9, she scored 16 points and was a perfect 3-3 from three. On February 13, she scored 17 points and was 7-12 from the field. Those three games, including South Carolina, showed off a boost of confidence and her growth in both SEC play and overall confidence boost.
If you want another impressive statistic, it is Mama’s perimeter defense. She recorded 44 steals in 20/31 games last season. I have no doubt that she will elevate the number this season, especially with having new perimeter defensive assets like Katlyn Gilbert on the team.
Over the summer, she brought home a trophy after she helped lead Spain to the FIBA U-20 championship.
Mama will no doubt continue her role as the starting point guard this season. With her confidence continuing to grow, she will shatter her records and improve on her overall game.
Note: In Mizzou’s exhibition game, Dembele had 9 points in around 11 minutes (the play clock was wonky in this one) on 3-6 shooting and 2-4 from the three. Something to watch— she did cough up 4 turnovers against an inferior opponent.
- No. 32 Jayla Kelly (Jr., Chesterfield, MO)
Kelly saw her role increase during a crucial time for the Tigers last season, appearing in 22 games and starting one. Jayla normally found herself towards the tail end of the bench due to playing backup to LaDazhia Williams, Hayley Frank and Aijha Blackwell. With Williams and Blackwell not on the roster any longer, Kelly will see a heavy increase in her playing time. She will more than likely be tabbed as the starting center when Mizzou takes on Missouri State on the 7th.
In her sole start of the season against Kentucky, Kelly showed her potential and skills with 11 points, four rebounds and a steal in 16 minutes. Two games prior to Kentucky against Georgia, Kelly was everywhere. She scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds, and had two blocks and three steals.
When Kelly is given minutes and the opportunity, she can contend with the best of them. Coach Pingeton is going to rely on her heavily the moment the ball is tossed against Missouri State. This season is bound to be a breakout year for Kelly. Mizzou fans are going to love seeing the 6’3 center take advantage of her new role on the court.
Note: In Mizzou’s exhibition game vs NW MO State, she was the de facto starting center, playing around 15 minutes and scoring 12 points on 4-8 shooting.
- No. 40 Micah Linthacum (RS-Jr., Jefferson City, MO)
Micah Linthacum was another player who has not seen much, if any, time on the court, only seeing playing time in blowout contests (she played in 13/31 games last season, and 10 games the year before). Linthacum’s statistics decreased from her RS-freshman to RS-sophomore seasons, and depending on how Pingeton decides to utilize her rotation, Linthacum could get an increase in playing time with a thinner roster.
Note: Micah did not play in the exhibition game, as Coach P said she was sidelined with injury.
- No. 1 Lauren Hansen (Sr., Long Island, NY/Auburn)
The hero Mizzou did not know they needed is none other than the New Yorker herself, Lauren Hansen. Hansen absolutely exploded onto the scene for the black and gold, starting 30/31 games. It’s worth noting— in her sole game on the bench against Tennessee, she put up starter numbers, recording 22 points on 60% shooting.
Let’s compare her junior year numbers to her sophomore year numbers. I knew what Hansen was capable of from watching her play at Auburn as a freshman. Did I expect her to be one of the most critical players in the Tigers’ rotation last season as a starter? No, I did not.
During her sophomore year, Hansen posted a stat line of 6.5 points on 45% shooting from the field and 43.3% from three, 1.4 rebounds, and one assist per game in 20 games, all off the bench. With her insertion into the starting lineup, Hansen showed Mizzou and the SEC what she’s capable of, averaging 10.9 points on 42% shooting from the field and 39% from three, to go with 2.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists. She also had 32 steals and three blocks. Hansen expanded her skillset by not just living by the three, but also driving to the basket and setting herself up for isolation midrange shots.
Hansen will no doubt continue her rampage against opponents. She will more than likely continue starting due to how well she played last season.
Note: In the NW MO State exhibition game, she played around 30 minutes, scoring 8 minutes on 3-9 shooting (0-2 from three) to go with 2 rebounds, 2 steals and an assist.
- No 43 Hayley Frank (Sr., Strafford, MO)
The queen of charges and three-point shooting is ready to set the SEC on fire again. Hayley Frank continued to improve her game in every statistical category. She led the team in with 1,012 minutes played and 465 points, which allowed her to join the 1,000-point club. She currently stands at 1,083 career points. Frank also led the SEC in three-point percentage with 46.2%, nearly earning her way to the prestigious 50-40-90 club, but fell just short with averages of 51.1% from the field and 86.6% from the free throw line.
Last season, Hayley averaged career highs in points, rebounds and assists per game with 15.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists, while swatting a career high total of 21 shots. This season, Frank will be looked at as the leader and heartbeat of this Tiger squad. Her role will be forced to expand into the paint, in addition to keeping up with her prolific three-point shooting.
Note: In the Tigers’ exhibition game, Hayley played a touch under 30 minutes (we think), scoring 9 points on 3-6 shooting and 1-3 from three. She also killed it with rebounding, grabbing 13 total (11 defensive).
- No 10 Katlyn Gilbert (Gr., Indianapolis, IN/Notre Dame)
Back in September, I wrote a feature about Gilbert with insight from three WNBA stars/former Notre Dame teammates. Kate is a 5’10 point guard who should be considered a combo guard. Her sole healthy season in 2019-2020 was her best one.
Gilbert’s 13.6 ppg ranked second among ACC freshmen and was one of two ACC players to post averages of at least 13 points, 2.5 assists, two steals and four rebounds. That is just a small sample size of her skillset and what she can do.
Gilbert is athletic and versatile. She and Dembele will prove to be a tag team in the backcourt with their perimeter defense. With time, Gilbert will likely improve her three-point shooting to expand her skillset away from pure drives and midrange shots.
According to Madame Editor, there were rumbles around the crowd at the exhibition game that she’s going to be good. There was never a doubt in my mind that she will take the SEC by storm.
Note: Again, while the numbers were a bit ‘off’ in the exhibition game, Kate played around 20 minutes, scoring 7 points on 2-6 shooting and grabbing 4 rebounds and 3 steals.
- No 13 Haley Troup (Gr., Gadsden, AL/South Carolina)
The most seasoned Tiger is back for her last ride in CoMo. Troup started all 29 games she appeared in (she missed one due to Covid), and continued her role as a shooter, averaging 8.5ppg on 40.6% shooting from the field and 33.7% from three. She added a valuable asset to her game that proved fruitful for Mizzou.
Troup upped her assist average from 2.6 per game in 2020-2021 to three per game last season and found herself in the passing lanes more often, totaling a career high of 14 steals.
Troup is another leader for Mizzou who the team respects and relies on. When you’re in your sixth year in the program, you immediately are seen as a go to player.
Note: In the exhibition game, Troup clocked around 15 minutes, scoring 6 points on 2-6 shooting (2-5 from three), while grabbing 4 rebounds (3 def) and a steal.
This 2022-2023 Tigers team is 12 women strong. They benefit from having seasoned veterans who have been around the team and college basketball as a whole for a few years. This season has a different meaning to last season, and they are hungry to get over the NCAA tournament drought and will do everything in their power to get there.
Projected depth chart:
Point guard: Mama Dembele, Katlyn Gilbert
Shooting guard: Lauren Hansen, Averi Kroenke
Small forward: Haley Troup, Sara-Rose Smith, Ashton Judd
Power forward: Hayley Frank, Sarah Linthacum
Center: Jayla Kelly, Micah Linthacum, Neci Trusty