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Mizzou WBB preview: Tigers face biggest test against No. 1 South Carolina

The Tigers travel to Columbia (L)east to take on the defending national champions.

Mitchell Scaglione/ Mizzou Athletics

After a 57-77 blowout loss to no. 5 LSU, Mizzou travels east to The Other Columbia to face off against No. 1 South Carolina. There’s not much I can say about South Carolina that people don’t already know.

They’re undoubtedly the strongest team in the nation right now and it’s truly not even remotely close. From top to bottom, they’re full of skilled players who can tear opponents apart in a flash.

But fellow Tiger fans, don’t let that demoralize you. Just last season Mizzou defeated South Carolina in overtime with only eight available and seven used players, albeit at home. The majority of the players who made the greatest impact in that game are still on this Mizzou squad— Hayley Frank, Mama Dembele and the hero, Lauren Hansen.

Of course, the scale tilts more towards South Carolina this season, especially with this matchup at their house. Last year, I was a “Positive Polly” who believed in that gritty team. This year, I stand by exactly what I said. This is going to be a hard one with the whole nation watching, but it will be a good one.

Here are the keys to the game against the Gamecocks.

1. Bench mob

What’s special about this high-powered South Carolina team is not only their starters but their bench. This team is so beyond deep that defenses have to play their A-game from top to bottom. Coach Staley’s game plan this year concerning her bench has been a lot more liberal than in years past. She’s utilizing more players in her rotation rather than using six or seven.

Even if you think it doesn’t seem possible the defending national champions could get better, then you haven’t seen a minute of their bench play. A prime example of how fluid South Carolina’s bench is comes from Kamila Cardoso. Cardoso is making a great case for SEC 6th Woman of the Year (alongside Mizzou’s very own Sara-Rose Smith), averaging 9.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game to go with 26 total blocks, which is second on the team behind wunderkind Aliyah Boston.

Coach Pingeton’s bench will be relied on throughout this whole game. If there is one game circled on the schedule each year for the whole bench to show up and show out, it’s always against South Carolina.

2. Shoot all the threes

Okay, maybe not every single shot, but against a South Carolina defense that is already so intimidating everywhere, Mizzou needs to get back to their strongest suit. I know their three point shooting has not been the absolute best these past two games, but it hasn’t been because they’re taking bad shots. The Tigers are getting great looks, but the lid has been on the basket.

Even when the shots aren’t falling, Missouri’s shooters need to keep on shooting and finding ways to impact the team. Hayley Frank is a great example of this. The Tigers’ last two games against Arkansas and LSU showed the grim side of shooting woes. Frank only had five points against the Razorbacks and three points against LSU before fouling out, and against the Tigers her only points came from that one three.

This is the time for Mizzou to get over their hump and find a way for their threes to fall in. South Carolina’s defensive post presence is so hard to handle that the Tigers will need to rely more on the three. The Tigers are full of shooters. Get them the ball and let them do their thing. The shots will eventually fall and hopefully it’ll be against the Gamecocks.

3. Defense

Flashback to January 2 when Georgia and South Carolina met up early in the SEC slate. Georgia played a stellar 3-2 defense that stunted South Carolina’s extremely efficient offense. For a team that is so fluid and talented, holding the Gamecocks to their season-low in scoring in a half is incredible. Hats off to Georgia for doing that even though it turned into a loss overall (obviously).

As I’ve said in previous previews, Mizzou has clearly worked on its zone defense, and it has paid off handsomely. The defense looks better, and opponents’ shots aren’t falling as much when they utilized the zone. But it’s also so crucial to mix up the defensive scheme, especially when playing South Carolina. If Mizzou comes out with all gas and no brakes on the defensive side and forces the Gamecocks offense to stutter, the chances of clear skies rise exponentially.

Mizzou takes on South Carolina this afternoon at 12 pm CST on ESPN. You can listen to the radio call on KTGR and the MUTigers app.