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Mizzou WBB’s veterans shake off slow start and propel Tigers to victory

Mama Dembele, Ashton Judd and Hayley Frank struggled out of the gates, but they picked up the slack in the second half to help Mizzou to a season-opening victory 

Mizzou Athletics

Heading into the 2023-24 season, Mizzou women’s basketball faced a good bit of uncertainty.

Gone were a handful of key contributors from last season – Lauren Hansen, Haley Troup and Sara Rose-Smith to name a few – and in came a handful of transfers and freshmen from far and wide. Although the likes of Hayley Frank, Ashton Judd and Mama Dembele would return and lead the charge for the Tigers, how much the newcomers would contribute remained to be seen.

The immediate answer was that they’d contribute heavily. Especially in the wake of Averi Kroenke’s absence due to injury, Abby Feit, Grace Slaughter, Angie Ngalakulondi, Hannah Linthacum and Abby Schreacke all played double-digit minutes. Heck, Slaughter led the team in minutes, playing all but one on Monday. They also put together solid stats – Slaughter registered a double-double, while Schreacke and Hannah Linthacum provided sparks on both the scoring and rebounding fronts.

However, amidst a handful of newcomers getting substantial playing time, the veterans stepped up and propelled the Tigers to victory.

Dembele, Frank and Judd each got off to rocky starts. The Missouri natives – Frank and Judd – missed 13 of a combined 15 shots. Dembele was held scoreless in the first quarter and picked up two early fouls. After the first ten minutes of play, Mizzou had 18 points, all of which were scored by either transfers or freshmen.

In the second quarter, however, Dembele and Frank shouldered the scoring load, as they scored all 12 of Mizzou’s points in the second quarter, with both scoring six. The two led the way in scoring in the third quarter, and in the final frame, Judd finally found a groove offensively, scoring eight points and making all three of her field goal attempts.

Despite shooting just 1/6 from three, Frank still provided a sturdy scoring and ball-handling presence on offense. She also took three charges on defense, a staple of solid Frank performances in the past.

While Judd also struggled shooting the ball and ended up fouling out in the fourth quarter, she still made her presence felt. She grabbed 10 rebounds, marking the first time in her collegiate career she’d grabbed double-digit boards. As mentioned previously, she finally got going offensively in the fourth quarter. She had shot the ball with confidence throughout the afternoon, but she couldn’t convert, as she started 1/8 from the field.

However she started putting the ball on the floor a lot more in the final ten minutes and found immense success around the rim. That included an and-one that extended Mizzou’s lead to double-digits late in regulation.

However, if an MVP was picked from Monday afternoon, Dembele would’ve likely gotten the most votes. Despite her donut in the point column after the first ten minutes of action, she attacked the basket ferociously throughout, and most of her drives resulted in kickouts.

Then, she cranked up the intensity a few notches on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Dembele began going up for layups instead of passing, which worked most of the time. She spoke a few weeks ago at media day about finishing better around the basket. Here’s what she told Rock M’s Adeen Rao back at media day:

On what she has improved most this off-season: “Probably my pace and my finishes at the rim. I feel like I’m just more decisive to just go to the basket and finish it. Usually I finish far away from the basket and that’s something we’ve been talking about a lot and I feel like I’ve improved on that and that has really changed my percentage going to the basket.”

Defensively, Dembele looked like the female basketball version of Daylan Carnell, as Pingeton called her a “huge spark”. Whether it was being a deterrent in passing lanes or pick-pocketing a ball-handler, Dembele always seemed to be around the ball. She came away with a pair of steals and captained a handful of fastbreaks for the Tigers, where she often created open opportunities for teammates.

“She’s lightning-quick, isn’t she?” Pingeton said in the postgame. “She just gets it and goes. Her ability to get a piece of that paint is huge.”

The newcomers will likely see plenty of action this season, especially if Kroenke’s injury ends up being serious. They also played a huge part in keeping the offense afloat early on because they literally were the offense. However, when shooting woes plagued the Tigers all afternoon, Mizzou found other ways to win, and the veterans played a big part in accomplishing that.