After a disappointing 51-62 loss at the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs, the Missouri Tigers (14-7, 3-5) look to snap their five-game losing skid against the Kentucky Wildcats (9-11, 1-7) in Lexington.
It’s been exactly a month since these teams last played each other when Mizzou defeated Kentucky 74-71 in Columbia, and since then, Kentucky just can’t seem to close out their 1-2 possession losses. A prime example: Mississippi State defeated the ‘Cats 76-77 in Starkville while Auburn downed them in Lexington, 68-71.
Regardless of the results, Kentucky is still full of a ton of talent that can’t be ignored.
Note: before I move on, I’d be remiss not to congratulate Hayley Frank on surpassing Morgan Eye (Scott) and Kesha Bonds for 13th on Mizzou’s all-time scoring list.
Here are the keys to the game for the Tigers.
1. Take care of the ball
Flash back to a month ago when these two teams played each other. Despite turning the ball over a total of 25 times, Mizzou somehow came out with the win. We all know that is an extremely rare feat. Somehow, they didn’t allow Jada Walker to steal the ball, she’s tied for second in the SEC in steals per game with 2.4 along with teammate Maddie Scherr.
This time, Mizzou doesn’t have the luxury of a home court advantage to get loud and benefit with their energy. I don’t have the exact number of how many turnovers they’re forcing at home handy, but on the season it’s 21.4. Kentucky may be struggling. but one thing is for sure, they’re going to bring out their A-game on defense. Mizzou needs to find a way to take care of the ball and not repeat what happened in their first matchup.
2. Play intense defense
Like Georgia, Kentucky’s strong suit is in the paint and not from the outside. They’re averaging 41.3% from the field courtesy of Robyn Benton (41%) and Walker (35%). But what we’ve seen from teams that shoot a low three-point percentage like Kentucky (27%), they seem to wake up against Mizzou and make every shot from beyond the arc (see.
Towards the end of the Georgia game, Coach Pingeton called for full court press and man-to-man defense that sparked a 9-0 run and a few Bulldog turnovers. For a second it seemed like Mizzou could somehow pull of a miracle. Even though that didn’t happen, playing intense defense sparked that comeback attempt.
Basically, all that is to say that Mizzou does need to mix up their defensive scheme (per usual) and needs to come out of the gate churning on that end. When Katlyn Gilbert helped continue to run with her steal and pass to Hayley Frank for the bucket in the UGA game, it proved what I’ve said all season long. Her defense is a game-changing.
Whether it’s an efficient zone, a mix of full court/half court press or man-to-man defense when the matchups are even, it must be consistent and suffocating.
3. Share the ball
What sparked that aforementioned comeback was Mama Dembele’s passing. A reminder that she was still sick but did end up playing mostly towards the latter part of the fourth quarter against Georgia. Despite what broadcasters said, she did appear in the second quarter for two minutes. I needed to make that extremely clear before I move on.
There’s only so much an iso three or individual playmaking can do to an offense. Even though Missouri has players like Lauren Hansen capable of converting on those types of shots, it unfortunately hasn’t worked out in this losing skid. Under the assumption that Dembele will be back at full strength against Kentucky, the offense should flow a lot better.
Mizzou takes on Kentucky this afternoon at 2 pm CST on SECN. You can listen to the radio call on KTGR and the MUTigers app.