After another embarrassing blow out 74-49 loss at the hands No. 21 Georgia, Missouri heads home to face Mississippi State today at 2 pm on SECN+. The last time these two teams met in January was in Starkville where the Bulldogs defeated the Tigers 77-62.
I don’t think many Tiger fans, including myself, expected Mizzou to get bulldozed that game. Ex-Bulldogs star Rickea Jackson, who led the SEC in points per game at the time, announced her entrance into the transfer portal the day before, which gave Mizzou an entrance to take advantage of a newly exposed weak spot.
Instead, the Tigers imploded and couldn’t get anything rolling on post defense. It seemed Mizzou’s mindset going in was an easy win so play and move on. But this is the SEC. It doesn’t matter how great or horrible an opponent is. The league is so competitive that surprises can occur every single game. We saw that when Mizzou upset South Carolina to start conference play.
There are giant question marks heading into the game. Will Aijha Blackwell be back? Will Coach Pingeton change up her rotations and play calls to attempt to give the Tigers an advantage? Will Mizzou somehow come up with the win on LaDazhia Williams’ senior night? Note: Haley Troup is not being honored, which presumably means she’ll be taking her Covid year and coming back for her sixth year. Brad Trenago said as much on a Mizzou broadcast earlier in the seaon.
For the sake of not knowing Blackwell’s status, the keys to the game are written with the assumption is she will not be available. Here are the keys to ending the slump and defeating the Bulldogs.
1. Do not lighten up on defense.
Like I alluded to above, Mizzou did not do well at defending the post, despite Jackson not being on the team anymore. Instead, they looked depleted and allowed the Bulldogs to bully them down low. They scored 26 points down low, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but when the majority of your points come from down low from one player, others have to rise up and punish post defenses as if your star player is gone.
Catterion Thompson decided to play the best game of her career as a Mississippi State Bulldog against Mizzou, dropping 27 points on 67% shooting from the field and 58.3% from beyond the arc last time out. Before the game against Mizzou, she was averaging 5.3 points per game, primarily as a bench player. She led the Bulldogs’ shooting, which completely dismantled the Tigers.
Anastasia Hayes joined Thompson in double-digit scoring and hit the 20-point mark club with 24 points on 55% shooting from the field, 75% from three and 82% of her free throws. Her nine FT accounted for all of the Bulldogs’ points on the team’s 13 total attempts.
As a team, the Bulldogs shot 51% from the field and 52% from three. Coming into that game, Mississippi State was last in the conference in three-point shooting percentage at 26.6%. Currently, they’re ranked ninth at 31.4%. They found a way to supplement their loss in the post by elevating their three point shooting.
The Bulldogs are 4-3 since the win against Mizzou. Losing Jackson ended up being a benefit in for the team in learning to appreciate and expand on their skill sets. They embraced the next player up mentality, and Mizzou has to stop that momentum with playing the best defense of their life.
With the assumption Blackwell is not playing, someone needs to step up and grab a board or two. It is extremely hard to supplement the SEC’s leading rebounder when the team doesn’t crash the boards or box out on defense. Against Georgia, the team grabbed 29 rebounds, which is not enough.
I’m not saying someone needs to grab double-digits like Blackwell does, but multiple people need to step up and fight for the defensive rebounds and second chance efforts. The Tigers absolutely can not afford to lighten up on the glass, especially during this slump.
In my mind, the two most obvious players who need to battle for the boards are Hayley Frank and LaDazhia Williams. I’d also like to see Haley Troup get in the mix as well. If Coach P decides to go deep into her bench for significant minutes, I’d expect Kiya Dorroh and Jayla Kelly, who’s minutes increased in her career night on Thursday, to hustle in for a rebound or two.
Rebounding is so critical, especially if your shots on offense aren’t going in. In an ideal world, Frank or Williams will post double-digit rebounding efforts, and both are capable of doing so. In reality, they probably won’t reach that mark, but that doesn’t mean those two, as well as the rest of the team, shouldn’t crash the boards and hustle for loose balls.
3. Get going fast.
I know I don’t have to state this, but allowing opponents to go on runs early on in the game no matter who you have in the starting lineup is an embarrassment. Most recent example is Georgia’s 8-0 run to start the game. Mizzou nearly always looks for either Blackwell or Frank to get the first bucket. Without Blackwell, Frank drained the three but it took a few possessions to do so.
That’s been the trend lately and it’s foreshadowed what the game would end up being, an embarrassing blow out loss. Now, don’t get me wrong here. This team is fighting, even if it doesn’t look like it. I do believe Mizzou should look for Frank for the first shot. I also think changing it up and giving the first shot to someone different like Troup or Williams down low is critical.
Also, ball movement to start the game has been pretty stagnant. Defenses have stopped the Tigers from being able to take advantage of their strong points like the three ball and mismatches down low. Plays haven’t been running smoothly, which leads to early runs for opponents. Something has to change in Coach P’s play calls. They must try to fix something that hasn’t been working for four games to attempt to get the team out of a rut. If the Tigers can’t get going fast, the lineup needs to change quickly. She’s done that for the past few games but, in my opinion, she needs to give the starters a break and bench players opportunities early to show she’s not afraid to mix it up.
Get going fast, diversify play calling immediately and give defenses a run for their money. This team is capable in all aspects. It’s a matter of how they start the game that’ll determine the finish.
Starting lineup: Hansen, Dembele, Troup, Williams and Frank. LaDazhia gets the start on her senior day in favor of Aijha Blackwell.
As I anticipated, Coach Pingeton has Aijha Blackwell coming off the bench. LaDazhia Williams gets the start on her Senior Day!— Lauren Rosenberg ️ ✡️ (@lrosenberg101) February 20, 2022
Follow along for live game coverage at the link below!https://t.co/fJZIzmJ2rS pic.twitter.com/Y2mKRyy9z6
Mizzou wins the opening tip but can’t make anything out of it.
Troup finds Frank down low and uses her height advantage for a layup. Mizzou leads 2-0.
Hansen gets a block and Dembele drives left for a floater. Mizzou leaves 4-2.
Frank banks in a wide-open three from the top of the key. Tigers lead 7-4.
Hansen swishes a wide-open three from the Norm Stewart logo. Mizzou leads 10-6.
Frank hits a contested three. Tigers lead 13-10.
Kelly gets a huge block and Hansen hits a wide-open transition three. Tigers lead 16-12.
Troup hits a wide-open three from the right wing. Tigers lead 19-14.
High-low action from Higginbottom to Kelly for a layup. Tigers lead 21-14.
At the end of the first quarter, Mizzou leave Mississippi State 21-16.
Higginbottom gets the Tigers on the board first in the second with a wide-open three from the top of the key. Tigers lead 24-16.
Higginbottom hits another three for Mizzou off a great set up from Blackwell. Tigers lead 27-19.
Kelly gets another huge block for her second of the game.
After the media timeout, Troup hits a midrange jumper off the inbound play. Tigers lead 29-21.
Troup hits a three off the inbound. Tigers lead 32-21.
Blackwell is fouled in the post and has the chance for two at the line. She splits the free throws for her first point of the game. Tigers lead 33-24.
Troup misses the step-back jumper but Williams is there for the offensive rebound and is fouled. She splits her free throws. Tigers lead 34-30.
Halftime: Mizzou leads Mississippi State 34-32.
Williams gets Mizzou immediately on the board first with a step-through post up layup. Tigers lead 36-32.
Dembele gets a block but Hansen can’t respond on the other side. Score is still the same as above.
Frank fakes a three and drives to the basket. She’s fouled and has a chance for two at the line, She splits her free throws. Tigers lead 37-34.
Frank dribbles behind the back and hits a layup. Tigers lead 39-34.
In true Frank fashion, she backs that three up with a charge on the other end heading into the media timeout. Score remains the same as above.
Dembele drives through a wide open lane and hits a layup right after the media time out. Tigers lead 41-34.
Blackwell spins down low for her first field goal of the game. Tigers lead 43-34.
Troup gets to the line after being fouled in the post. Mizzou is in the bonus. She drains bith free throws. Tigers lead 45-35.
Hansen blocks the Bulldogs’ shot down low with authority. Score remains the same.
Blackwell hits her second field goal on a baby hook. Tigers lead 47-38.
Blackwell almost grabs the rebound off Hansen’s missed free throw jumper. She is awarded two free throws and drains both. Tigers lead 49-40.
Dembele crosses up Hayes as Anastasia took her eyes off of her and drives left for a righty layup. Times lead 51-42.
At the end of the third quarter, Mizzou leads Mississippi State 51-42.
Frank puts on some post moves and hits a layup. Tigers lead 53-44.
Hansen finds Frank in the post and hits a layup. Tigers lead 55-50.
Blackwell steps up and drains a three. She now has a double-double. Tigers lead 58-55.
Frank drives from the top of the key and hits a layup. Mizzou leads 60-55.
Blackwell gets a huge block on the perimeter and Troup hits a wide-open three in transition for an 8-0 Tiger run. Mississippi State calls a timeout. Tigers lead 63-55.
High-low action from Troup to Blackwell for the floater. Tigers lead 65-62.
Hansen banks in a deep three. Tigers lead 68-62.
Troup drives and is fouled. She splits her free throws. Tigers lead 69-62.
Dembele is fouled at the top of the key. Tigers are in the bonus so she has a chance for two. She splits her free throws. Tigers lead 70-62.
Frank is intentionally fouled in the back court. She drains both of her free throws. Tigers lead 72-64.
Blackwell is intentionally fouled off the inbound and goes to the line for two. She drains both. Tigers lead 74-66.
Troup is intentionally fouled and goes to the line for two. She drains both free throws. Tigers lead 76-66.
Final: Mizzou snaps their four game losing streak to defeat Mississippi State 76-66.