After a controversial 65-68 loss at the hands of Tennessee, Mizzou (14-6, 3-4) heads to Athens to take on the Georgia Bulldogs (13-8, 2-5). After starting SEC play on a three-game win streak, the Tigers have lost four in a row against some of the top teams in the country (LSU, South Carolina, Tennessee). Georgia comes into this matchup riding a three game losing streak after losses to Tennessee, Ole Miss and most recently, the second worst team in the conference, Texas A&M.
Georgia’s one of many programs that experienced extreme roster turnover due to a head coach leaving. In this case, when Joni Taylor left for A&M, Tineya Hilton went with her. A few others — Jillian Hollingshed (Tennessee) and Sarah Ashlee Barker (Alabama) — departed for other fellow SEC schools. The Bulldogs also lost their two best players, Jenna Staiti and Que Morrison, to graduation as well as Mikayla Coombs.
Georgia hired one of the best available coaches in former UCF head coach and Bulldog alum, Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. Pre-UCF, she was a head coach at Albany and Missouri State. Her Springfield ties allowed her to bring in Texas transfer Aubrey Warren. Diamond Battles and Brittney Smith, who I will get to below, followed her from UCF to Georgia.
Even though the Bulldogs are in a rebuild type of year, they’re still a talented team and have an 8-3 record at home. Here are the keys to the game for the Tigers.
1. Pound the paint
It’s a rare occurrence that I’d put this as a key to the game in a SEC matchup, but after the way Jayla Kelly played against Tennessee, it needed to be included. The height matchup is pretty much evenly matched due to Georgia rarely playing their 6’5 center in Fatima Diakhate.
For those of y’all who missed out on Jayla’s enormous game, she finished with a career highs of 14 points and four assists and grabbed nine rebounds. Most importantly, she only committed one turnover. A prominent damper on her game to this point has been continuous unforced turnovers, namely travels, but that did not plague her on Sunday. Georgia’s defense is going to try and force her to travel down low. If Jayla can control herself and put on a showing down low like she did against Tennessee, Mizzou will look really good. The paint is key, pun intended.
2. Keep Georgia out of the paint
The name of the game for the Bulldogs’ offense are two point shots. They’re shooting a smidge under 46.2% from 2 point FG%. Smith is their leader in overall field goal percentage, shooting at a 50.5% clip. She’s only attempted one three on the season. Javyn Nicholson is shooting 50% from the field while attempting zero threes. Zoesha Smith is shooting 47.9% from the field with no made threes and Malury Bates is up there at 48.2% from the field with zero three point attempts. Essentially what I’m saying is, they live and die by the two.
When Georgia is tested from beyond the arc, only three players are able to contribute but with not so pretty numbers. Diamond Bates is shooting 29.1% from three, Audrey Warren sits at 26.9% and Alisha Lewis is at 28.3%. As a team, the Bulldogs are shooting at a 28.7% clip from outside. It is so crucial for the Tigers to play their best interior defense and force Georgia to get uncomfortable early.
3. Shoot lights out from three
Let’s be honest, when is this not going to be a key to the game for Mizzou? The Tigers have to execute what they do best and that is their 34.8% shooting from beyond the arc. Hayley Frank shot the lid off the basket overall, finishing with 26 points on 56.3% from the field and 55.5% from three. That outing also erased her four game single-digit scoring streak.
Lauren Hansen is still struggling mightily in general with her shooting. But a great benefit for Hansen and the Tigers as a whole is the percentage of threes Georgia’s defense is allowing its opponents. In comparison to their 28.7% makes, they’re allowing opponents to shoot the lights out at a 34.8% clip.
If the lid isn’t on the basket for the Tigers and three point shots fall Stegeman Coliseum, Mizzou should get back in the win column.