After the much needed 76-66 win over Mississippi State on Sunday, Missouri wraps up their home stand against the red-hot Kentucky Wildcats tonight at 7 pm on SECN+. The Wildcats are on a four-game win streak over the bottom portion of the conference (with the exception of Arkansas, who they beat 78-55 in Fayetteville). Mizzou, on the other hand, finally got over their four game losing slump against Mississippi State. The Tigers executed well on offense and asserted their dominance, which was severely lacking during the skid.
Kentucky might be 13-11, but their record is quite deceiving. They currently hold the same SEC record as Mizzou (17-10) at 6-8. During the Wildcats’ win streak, they’ve kept each game extremely close, fighting their way to the end with the exception of the aforementioned Arkansas game, which was a blowout. They’re led by projected top-2 WNBA 2022 draft pick Rhyne Howard, who’s been tormenting the SEC all season. I’ll get more into her later.
Meanwhile, Mizzou’s still feeling the effects of their terrible slump, but the win over the Bulldogs definitely brought much needed relief and energy. When you don’t give up a lead in a game after suffering blow outs, that’s enough to make the team and coaching staff a lot more confident in themselves and each other.
Kentucky is not a team to lighten up on. They’re scorching hot right now and are looking to continue that momentum against Mizzou. Here are the keys to the game.
1. Contain Rhyne Howard and Dre’una Edwards
Kentucky is full of offensive weapons, but the two most notable are Howard and Edwards. Edwards primarily started during the non-conference slate, but switched to a bench role that has worked in the Wildcats’ favor during their win streak.
Currently, Howard is setting the SEC on fire, leading the conference in points per game (20) and third in steals per game (2.5). She may be a 6’2 guard, but she is definitely classified as a big guard like Aijha Blackwell. She excels at crashing the boards with 7.8rpg and isn’t afraid to get a block or two. Overall, she’s averaging 1.8 blocks per game. Basically, she’s everywhere on the court and can scorch offenses and defenses from practically everywhere.
Edwards is probably the most intriguing player on this team, especially as of late. She’s second on the team in scoring (15.8ppg) and is averaging 7.8 rebounds per game like Howard. Coach Kyra Elzy’s strategy of leaving her out of the starting lineup has proven fruitful, as Edwards has been extremely reliable and is the spark Kentucky needs. During the win streak, she’s averaging an astounding 21ppg and 9.3rpg. In my opinion, Kentucky wouldn’t be on this streak without her.
Of course, Mizzou also can’t lighten up on the other players like Jada Walker, who’s averaging 10.3ppg. But if Mizzou wants to extend their win streak and end their last home game with a W, they absolutely must shut those two down at all costs.
2. Limit turnovers and force steals.
This goes without saying, but Mizzou absolutely must take care of the ball and apply extreme pressure on Kentucky’s offense.
Both teams average 10.9 turnovers per game, but only one has the edge in steals, and that is Kentucky. Mizzou is currently last in steals per game with 5.9, only trailing Texas A&M by 0.1, while Kentucky comes in with 8.5 per game (9th place). Both teams may be tied in turnovers per game, but Kentucky’s committed 357 compared to Mizzou’s 401.
Basically, both teams struggle with protecting the ball, but Mizzou especially struggles when it comes to forcing turnovers and picking pockets. The Tigers must play smart and stay calm on offense and defense. They absolutely can’t make lazy passes or allow easy lanes to the basket without attempting to force a turnover.
3. Shooting is back, so launch it.
Oh gosh, was it a joy to watch the Tigers light it up from beyond the arc on Sunday like they’ve done for the majority of the season. Hayley Frank, Lauren Hansen and Haley Troup decided the game against Mississippi State was the perfect time to show fans that their shooting woes are over, and the Tigers shot 50% from three. Mizzou played poised and at their own pace and the team’s offense bailed them out. It was a refreshing sight.
When Mizzou can get going early and take the lead at the half, their odds of winning are extremely elevated. Case in point, Mizzou is currently 10-2 on the season when leading at the half. The majority of those wins were due to great offensive execution, shooting the ball extremely well, getting going early and forcing opponents to play at their pace.
Luckily for Mizzou, Kentucky’s allowing 34% from three while Mizzou is back on top of the conference converting 38.6% of their attempts. Kentucky is going to apply so much pressure on the perimeter to try and limit the Tigers from heating up. If Mizzou gets hot early and executes their offense and pace the way they want, nothing will be able to stop their shooting.
Kentucky is better than their record and Mizzou must take that to heart. The dark horse of the SEC is going to do whatever it takes to continue their win streak and force the upset. This matchup will be a test to how well Mizzou can keep up with Kentucky’s stars. It’s time to see if their defense can stop them and their offense can continue the momentum from last game.
Starting lineup: Hansen, Dembele Troup, Kelly (first career collegiate start), Frank.
No Williams, Dorroh, Travis or Blackwell as, per Ben Arnet, they all did not meet program standards.
#Mizzou WBB will be without Aijha Blackwell, Ladazhia Williams, Kiya Dorroh & Skylah Travis tonight against Kentucky. All 4 “did not meet the standards of the program”, same phrasing used for Blackwell’s recent absence against Georgia. pic.twitter.com/azshMICM6W— Ben Arnet (@BenArnetKOMU) February 25, 2022
Kelly spins and hits a righty layup to end Kentucky’s 5-0 run. Tigers trail 2-5.
Kelly grabs the offense rebound and finds Frank inside. Tigers trail 4-9.
Kelly posts up and hits a floater. Tigers trail 6-19.
Kelly spins and hits another floater. Tigers trail 8-21.
Kelly grabs an offensive rebound and gets the put back. Tigers trail 10-25.
Frank hits the Tigers first three of the night from the corner. Tigers trail 13-25.
Frank hits a deep three and cuts the deficit to nine. Tigers trail 19-25.
Higginbottom gets the steal, Hansen drives, kicks it out to Izzy who fakes the pass and drains the wide-open three. Tigers trail 19-25.
At the end of the first quarter, Mizzou comes back from a severe deficit and trails Kentucky 19-28.
Kelly gets slapped with an intentional foul for her second of the game. Rhyne Howard will go to the line for two after the media time out. Score is the same at the end of the first.
Troup fakes, drives and finds a wide-open Hansen for a layup. Tigers trail 21-30.
Frank drives and steps through to get free and hits a layup. Tigers trail 23-35.
High low action from Troup to Higginbottom for the layup off the Frank back screen. Tigers trail 25-38.
Troup hits an off balance jumper right as the shot clock expires. Tigers trail 27-38.
High-low action from Frank to a cutting Dembele for a layup. Tigers trail 29-40.
Troup hits a huge three off the dribble. Tigers trail 32-42.
Frank banks in a three from the Norm Stewart logo. Tigers trail 35-44.
Smith fights for the loose ball and Mizzou comes up with it. Frank hits a three from the top of the key. Tigers trail 38-44.
Dembele drives and is fouled on the scoop layup attempt. She hits both of her free throws and cuts Kentucky’s deficit to four. Tigers trail 40-44.
Troup drives left and finds a cutting Sarah Linthacum for the layup. Tigers trail 42-46.
Halftime: Mizzou trails Kentucky 42-46.
Kelly is fouled on the layup attempt. She makes both of them to tie her career high 10 points. Tigers trail 44-46.
Hansen drives and swings it to Troup who passes up the three to to Hansen who drains a corner three. Tigers trail 47-50.
Higginbottom cuts baseline and Dembele finds her for the wide-open layup. Tigers trail 49-52.
Dembele hesitates and drives to the basket for a layup. Mizzou trails Kentucky 51-52.
Hansen hits a wide-open three from the top of the key and now has 60 on the season. Tigers trail 54-56.
Troup drives left and steps through the defense for the layup. Tigers trail 56-57.
At the end of the third quarter, Mizzou trails Kentucky 56-57.
Kelly is fouled on the layup attempt. She splits her free throws but resets her career high in points with 11. Tigers trail 57-59.
Hansen stops Kentucky’s 10-0 scoring run with a layup. Tigers trail 59-69.
Troup drives and hits a layup. Tigers trail 61-73.
Higginbottom drives and is fouled. She makes both of her free throws. Tigers 63-78.
Final: Mizzou loses to Kentucky 78-63.