After an unfortunate 78-63 loss to Kentucky, Mizzou heads to Florida to face the No. 15 Gators for the final game of the regular season today at 11 am on SECN. As of late, both teams are struggling for different reasons. For Mizzou, they were without four players last game— Aijha Blackwell, LaDazhia Williams, Kiya Dorroh and Skylah Travis. Regardless, the team fought so hard in their absence but just ran out of gas. For Florida, they came into the week ranked No. 15 in the AP Top-25 poll but have suffered two losses this week in LSU and an upset from Vanderbilt.
Prior to the LSU loss, Florida rode a five game win streak where they defeated in order: then No. 7 Tennessee, No. 14 Georgia, and dark horse Arkansas. Both of their losses to LSU and Vanderbilt were away games and within five points.
On the other side, Mizzou’s been in a slump that ended after they defeated Mississippi State at full strength. Not having three of your key players against Kentucky definitely hindered their chances at beating the Wildcats, and in my opinion, if Mizzou was at full strength, it would’ve been an easy win. There’s more information about that in my takeaways.
Florida may be on a losing streak but they’re still going to battle, especially at home for the last game of the season. Mizzou’s going to have to play so hard to get the upset, regardless of who’s available or not. Here are the keys to the game against Florida.
Note: this is written with the assumption that the four aforementioned players aren’t available.
1. Continue great offensive execution.
Even if it didn’t seem like it, Mizzou executed their offense well throughout the whole 40 minutes of the Kentucky game, and it truly did pay off for 30 of those minutes. That’s not to discredit the fact their execution disappeared in the fourth quarter. They did very well and got great looks; the ball just couldn’t find the bottom of the net.
Overall, the Tigers shot extremely well, draining 43% from the field and 42% from three. Mizzou will need that fire shooting to show up against Florida as the Gators have limited opponents to 29.3% shooting from beyond the arc. If the Tigers can’t get anything going from three, they’ll need to find a way to execute with backdoor cuts and dribble drive swing passes like they did so well against Kentucky.
Another thing to note, aside from their great shooting, was the way they protected the ball. Mizzou only turned the ball over 11 times. Remember, Coach Pingeton always preaches ball protection and limiting turnovers to less than 12. Sure, eight of those turnovers were steals, but that’s to be expected against a perimeter defense like Kentucky. Florida is a whole different beast.
The Gators are currently fourth in the SEC in steals per game with 9.1 and third in total steals with 254. A lot of those steals are courtesy of Kiara (Kiki) Smith, who’s tied for fourth in the SEC with 2.5 steals per game. Mizzou did well in only allowing eight steals with Rhyne Howard on the perimeter. If Mizzou can continue their offensive execution and limit turnovers by taking care of the ball, they’ll be able to stay in this game.
2. Play tough defense.
Assuming Williams isn’t available, Mizzou will be at a size disadvantage down low. Thankfully, Jayla Kelly’s been lighting it up and playing so well as of late. Her minutes are obviously increasing and for great reason. The past two games she’s set career highs in almost every statistical category and is an absolute tough and strong player.
Earlier in the season, Florida lost arguably their best player in Lavender Briggs to the transfer portal. (Briggs ended up at Maryland.) Faith Dut took her place in the starting lineup, but it was up to Smith and Jordyn Merritt to take over the offensive load. Currently, those two are the leading scorers for the Gators, averaging 14.9 and 10.1 points per game, respectively.
Florida’s main rotational players are shorter guards, which means the Tigers will have to keep up with them in transition if they turn the ball over. Overall, Mizzou must play defense quite literally everywhere. They’re at a disadvantage with needing to play small ball. They’ve been doing that essentially all season with no true post player starting aside from Williams getting the nod a few times. But now, they only have Kelly as their true post player. She’ll definitely get attacked down low so Hayley Frank needs to play great post defense to help alleviate the scoring blow up that is more than likely to happen.
3. Win the rebound battle, or at least try.
This is more important than ever. Like I said above, Florida owns the height advantage but no one is averaging more than 6 rebounds per game. In fact, Kiki Smith averages the most rebounds per game with 5.5 overall and 6.1 in SEC play.
It will be much harder for Mizzou to win this battle if they’re without Blackwell and Williams. I’m fully expecting Florida to bully the boards and take advantage of their height and length. Without Blackwell, you lost your leading rebounder and the SEC’s leading rebounder with 13.3 per game. In comes Frank, who’s second on the team in rebounds per game with 4.6.
In my opinion, this will be the toughest game to win the rebound battle. Against Kentucky, Mizzou narrowly lost the battle, 37-32, with Kentucky having the slight height advantage. Florida has the full-on height advantage here, which will challenge Mizzou even more. If they can’t come up with the win on the boards, the Tigers need to at least put in all the effort on boxing out every single Gator regardless of where they are on the court.
Starters: Hansen, Dembele, Troup, Williams and Frank.
Blackwell, Travis and Dorroh are not in Gainesville.
12 seconds into the game and Mizzou’s being aggressive on the boards. Hansen forced a jump ball.
Troup is fouled on the post up and has a chance to get Mizzou on the board at the line. She splits her free throws. Tigers trail 1-3.
Williams spins and hits a floater for Mizzou’s first field goal. Tigers trail 3-5.
Hansen drives as the clock winds down and hits a layup after Williams saved the ball. Game is tied at 5.
Hansen swishes a deep three and ties the game at 8.
Troup ties the game at 10 with a layup.
Williams blocks Broughton’s layup attempt.
At the end of the first quarter, Mizzou trails Florida 10-12.
Florida starts the quarter with a 7-0 run forcing a Mizzou timeout. Tigers trail 10-17.
Mizzou snaps Florida’s 10-0 run with a patient layup from Higginbottom. Tigers trail 12-20.
Hansen executes the pick-and-roll to Williams who makes the layup. Tigers trail 14-20.
Higginbottom drives left and is fouled. She has a chance for two at the line. She drains them both. Mizzou is on a 6-0 run. Tigers trail 16-20.
Frank finally gets on the board off the putback. Tigers trail 18-20.
Frank hits a three to give Mizzou the 21-20 lead. Florida calls a timeout. Tigers are on an 11-0 run.
Frank spins and hits the floater to give Mizzou the lead once again. Tigers lead 23-22.
Frank hits another three to extend Mizzou’s lead to six. Tigers lead 26-22.
Hansen loses the ball and saves it from going out of bounds to Higginbottom who drains a three. Tigers lead 29-22.
Halftime: Mizzou leads Florida 29-22.
Mizzou gets on the board first after a great bounce pass from Dembele to Williams for the floater. Tigers lead 31-22.
Dembele drives right and hits a reverse layup on teh left side. Tigers lead 33-26.
Huge block from Williams on the outside. Dembele is fouled on the transition and has a chance for two. She drains both of her free throws. Tigers lead 35-29.
Dembele is again fouled on the drive and has a chance for two at the stripe. She drains both. Tigers lead 37-29.
Hansen cuts to the basket and Frank finds Hansen for an easy layup. Tigers lead 39-32.
Dembele drives left and hits the easy layup. Tigers lead 41-34.
Higginbottom passes cross court to Frank for a three. Tigers lead 44-34.
Frank is fouled on the baseline drive and has a chace for two. She drains them both. Tigers lead 46-40.
Higginbottom drives and scoops in the righty layup. Tigers lead 48-40.
Troup finds Frank wide open on the corner and she drains a three. Tigers lead 51-42.
Frank drives and is fouled. She drains both of her free throws. Tigers lead 53-42.
At the end of the third quarter, Mizzou leads Florida 53-45.
Out of the timeout at the 8:24 mark, Frank hits a wide-open three from the right wing. Mizzou leads 56-45.
Hansen drives and finds Williams inside for the layup. Mizzou leads 58-45.
Frank throws an absolute dime to a cutting Hansen who gets the easy layup. Mizzou leads 60-47.
Out of the timeout, Hansen fakes a jumper and hits a patient layup. Tigers lead 62-49.
Higginbottom tucks and is fouled on the drive. She drains both of her free throws. Mizzou leads 64-51.
Higginbottom drives and finds a trailing Frank for the layup and is fouled. She converts the three point play. Tigers lead 67-57.
Williams is fouled and gets free throws because Mizzou is in the bonus. She splits her free throws. Tigers lead 68-62.
Higginbottom is fouled in the back court and has a chance for two. She drains them both. Mizzou leads 70-64.
Dembele is tackled by Broughton and has a chance for two. She splits her free throws. Mizzou leads 71-64.
Florida takes forever to foul but eventually fouls Dembele. She drains both of her free throws. Mizzou leads 73-66.
Hansen is immediately fouled after Florida’s made three. She splits her free throws. Mizzou leads 74-69.
Dembele is immediately fouled and heads to the line for two. She makes both of her free throws. Mizzou leads 76-71.
Higginbottom is fouled with 4.6 left. She drains both of her free throws. Mizzou leads 78-73.
Final: Mizzou gets the upset defeats No. 15 Florida on the road 78-73. Huge win for Mizzou to end the regular season!