Finals are over, graduations have occurred and now it’s time for some Mizzou women’s basketball to resume. What a better matchup to start winter break than the right to brag for another year? Before I get into what makes this Illinois team special, let’s dive into the most recent history of the matchup.
All time, Illinois leads Mizzou 9-6. However, five of the six losses came before the Robin Pingeton era when Mizzou was a forgettable team in the Big 12. Before the now-annual matchup resumed in the 2017-2018 season, the two teams hadn’t played since 2008-2009 where Mizzou lost to Illinois 55-65 in Champaign. In the past four seasons, Mizzou holds a 3-1 lead, their sole loss coming during the tumultuous post-Sophie Cunningham era 2019-2020 season. Otherwise, Mizzou’s defeated Illinois by a large margin. There is only one Missouri player on the current roster who’s been a part of the previous four matchups. If you’re stumped on who, I’ll give you a hint. Her initials are HT. If you guessed Haley Troup, you got it! Although she couldn’t play in the 2017-18 revival due to transfer rules, she still was a part of the team.
Now, let’s talk about this new, and vastly improved, Illinois team. After the retirement of Nancy Fahey, Illinois brought in up-and-coming former Dayton head coach, Shauna Green. In her tenure at Dayton, Fahey led them to five A-10 regular season championships and six postseason appearances, including four NCAA tournaments. And she led Illinois in their first six games to their second best start in program history. That is, until their 80-83 loss to Delaware, which gave them their first L of the season. Her squad currently sits at 9-2 heading into this afternoon’s matchup against 11-1 Mizzou.
If you were following along last year, you are well aware that I am not a fan of the NET. Illinois is currently 32 on the NET while Mizzou lies one below at 33. Aside from the battle for braggin rights, it is also a battle for the NET rankings.
Before I get into the keys to the game, huge congrats to Lauren Hansen on her graduation!
Now, let’s roll!
1. Win the rebound battle
This game is bound to be one for the books if you love rebounding. Illinois is a great rebounding team in their own right, and they’re currently averaging 44.2 rpg while holding their opponents to 31.8. Their rebounding leader is the Tiger slayer Kendall Bostic, who leads the team with 9.6. For reference, Bostic grabbed 13 rebounds in last season’s matchup. That is an extremely large deficit that heavily favors Illinois.
On the other side, Mizzou is averaging 37.5 rpg and only allowing 31.6. Both teams are excellent at limiting their opponents on the glass, but the Illini starters are better at grabbing the boards.
Another prolific Illinois rebounder is star guard, Adalia McKenzie. I’ll get to her later, but she’s averaging 6.7 boards per game.
For reference, Mizzou’s leading rebounder, Sara-Rose Smith, comes off the bench, and is currently averaging 8.3 per game.
Rebounding wins games and this matchup will definitely be one to watch. Mizzou’s going to need to take the edge on the glass during every single possession.
2. Get offense going fast
How refreshing is it knowing that neither Hayley Frank nor Lauren Hansen have cooled down since finding their shooting stroke again. How great is it knowing that Haley Troup is going off as of late and averaging a career high of 9.3 points per game. Lastly, how awesome is it that Kate Gilbert is starting to get her mojo going? It’s all a source of excitement for Tiger fans, to be sure.
Frank is averaging 14.8 points per game while Hansen is trailing right behind her with 14.7. Both are on a five game double-digit scoring streak, which have helped anchor the Tigers to victory. In the past two games, Gilbert’s averaging 10 points after a slow start to the season, and scored 11 points against Wake Forest Thanksgiving week. She’s been a great catalyst off the bench for Mizzou, especially as she’s getting back into basketball shape.
If there is one game that the offense needs to show up, it is against this great Illinois squad. They need a jolt to boost them into SEC play and a great offensive showing today will do just that.
3. Clamp up the star guards
I already talked about the need to slow Bostic down because of her presence on the boards, but now it’s time to touch on the Illini’s three star guards.
One of the players Green brought over from Dayton is guard Makira Cook. Cook’s hit double digits in scoring in almost every game (the one exception being a 4-pt outing against Charlotte in late November). She’s averaging a team leading 17.9 points per game on an eye-popping 50.3% from the field and 46.5% from three. Cook also leads Illinois in assists with 4.3 per game. Moral of the story, she is pretty much unstoppable.
Let’s not forget about her tag team partner in the aforementioned Adalia McKenzie. I already touched on her rebounding, but now it’s time for her scoring. Like Mizzou’s Kate Gilbert, she’s a guard who prioritizes driving downhill and midrange over shooting the three ball. Her style of play has proven fruitful as she’s averaging 15.9 points per game on 50.7% shooting from the field.
Lastly, the spark off the bench for Illinois is Genesis Bryant. She’s proven she can be a starter, but Green is extremely strategic in her rotation and smartly has her come off the bench. Bryant has played extremely well, averaging 12.5 points per game on 44.4% shooting from the field and 48.9% from beyond the arc. She’s a scoring weapon who troubles defenders. It doesn’t matter where she fires from, Bryant is absolutely lethal and the bench will need to clamp up on her at all costs.
Mizzou takes on Illinois on December 18 at 4 pm CST on SECN. You can listen to the radio call on KTGR and the MUTigers app.