It’s time! Mizzou Women’s Hoops is back and their opening game could not be any better. After going 18-13 last season, the Tigers narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament and got eliminated at home against Drake in the first round of the WNIT. Despite the unfortunate ending to their season, Mizzou had some memorable moments like the upset win over eventual NCAA champions, no. 1 South Carolina and the upset over no. 15 Florida in The Swamp to close out the regular season.
With the transfers of Aijha Blackwell, Izzy Higginbottom, and Kiya Dorroh and the medical retirement of Skylah Travis, Mizzou was left with a lot of question marks. Fortunately, Missouri State was left with even more question marks and unknowns after their head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton left to take the opening at University of Virginia and Duke assistant coach Beth Cunningham took the reins.
MO State lost eight players to the transfer portal/graduation including their three best; Abigayle Jackson (12.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks), Jasmine Franklin (14.9 points and 12.1 rebounds) to Tennessee and Brice Calip (11.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists 2.2 steals). One of their impact players, Sydney Wilson, opted to use her Covid year to return to the Lady Bears. She was the fourth leading scorer behind the afforementioned three players with averages of 10.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
Although the ending may not have been what the players, coaching staff and fans wanted, the page has turned and a brand new season is underway and starts with the rivals to the south.
Your 2022-23 Mizzou Tigers pic.twitter.com/oUfvHMfoHB— Mizzou Basketball (@MizzouWBB) November 2, 2022
1. Rebound like there’s no tomorrow.
A giant question mark coming into the season for Mizzou is rebounding. Last season’s rebounding anchor Aijha Blackwell is now at Baylor, which leaves the Tigers with a huge hole to fill.
One thing I noticed periodically throughout last season was the amount of people Mizzou had on the low block to box out after a miss. Normally it was just Blackwell and no one left in sight. Without her, there needs to be a new leader in town and I think I have the perfect scenario.
Insert the four players who I think will make the most impact on the boards against Missouri State. Hayley Frank, Katlyn Gilbert, Jayla Kelly and Sara-Rose Smith. Note: I excluded Ashton Judd and Averi Kroenke due to not knowing how they will be utilized. I wrote in my roster preview how crucial those four players will be in filling in the shoes for Blackwell’s rebounding. Frank was second on the team last season on the boards with 5.1 per game.
Right now, with all the newcomers on the Lady Bears’ roster, it is hard to determine how good they are on the low block. Even with scouting the new players and looking at their slim exhibition win over Missouri S&T where they weren’t fully healthy. They most notably were without Wilson, so it’s tough to figure out what they’ll look like come day time. But one thing is for sure, if Mizzou wants to win this thing, they have to be more than aggressive on the boards, especially on the defensive side. They absolutely cannot allow Missouri State to get an offensive board for a second chance opportunity.
2. Clamp up on shooters
A lot of aspects of Missouri State’s game looked weak in the exhibition. In the 58-44 win, they shot only 39% from the field and 29% from three. They also went 40% from the free throw line. To S&T’s credit, they did upset SIUE in an another exhibition, 82-79.
You may be wondering why this is a key to the game despite shooting so terribly against a Division-II school. Aside from the importance of interior defense as mentioned in the first key, they can get hot from three-point range if no one is guarding them out on the perimeter. There is no need to worry about Mama Dembele or Gilbert defending up there and getting some steals; it’s the other guards who need to make their matchup uncomfortable. In any sport, especially basketball, you can’t let your opponents get comfortable or else it will more than likely bite you in the neck.
3. Limit turnovers
This is a key I hate writing about but I know, deep down, I have to. In case a reminder is needed, The Tigers were 7th in the SEC in turnovers per game with 14.7. The only so-called “high note” of that is they weren’t last. There are a few games in particular from last season that I believe could’ve been won had they not turned it over a ton of times.
The two main games I’m referring to was their non-conference matchup against Baylor where the Tigers lost 68-70 and their conference matchup in January at LSU where they lost 85-87. Mizzou turned the ball over 15 times compared to Baylor’s 10. Fouls were an issue in that game but we don’t talk about that just like we don’t talk about Bruno. Against LSU, Mizzou turned the ball over 15 times, compared to their 12.
Mizzou absolutely must play smart basketball in terms of offensive execution. The same issue that’s been the Tigers’ achilles heel for years must be rendered and fast. This opening game against Missouri State is the perfect opportunity to do so.
Mizzou takes on Missouri State in Springfield on Monday November 7 at 6:00 pm on ESPN+.