The phrase “must-win game” may be overused just a smidge in sports, but for this game the usage was valid. The Missouri Tigers (14-8) took on the Vanderbilt Commodores (10-12) in the midst of a 6-game losing skid, needing a win to keep their tourney hopes even remotely alive.
Former SLU star Ciaja Harbison picked up right where she left off in the last game for the Commodores, getting Vandy’s first seven points in the game after scoring a gargantuan 41 in their previous tilt. Mizzou’s own star Hayley Frank was right there with her, picking up five points early as the two stayed tied 7-7 with about five minutes remaining in the first.
The Tigers won the rebound battle early, accumulating eight rebounds to Vandy’s three in the first seven minutes. Frank’s offensive prowess and Mama Dembele’s defensive abilities kickstarted a Mizzou 10-0 run that put them up 17-7 with 1:55 left in the first. Sara-Rose Smith also got into the mix, scoring seven points in a 9-5 run to end the quarter with a 26-12 lead.
Noticeably, players like Smith and Ashton Judd, who had been cold as far as production was concerned during the 6-game skid, found their groove again in this matchup. And by the 5:15 mark in the second quarter, Frank had already eclipsed double-digit points.
Circling back to players on big skids, Lauren Hansen was one of the players Mizzou really needed to play better to keep their tourney hopes alive, and she showed up early in this one, picking up 11 points in the first half alone. Mizzou’s well-rounded scoring gave them a comfortable 43-27 halftime lead.
Vandy found their footing early in the second half and cut the lead down to as little as 11, but Mizzou’s ‘Ms. Consistent’ Hayley Frank made sure to shut down any comebacks with key buckets. The duo of Hansen and Frank (editor’s note: that feels nice to read again, doesn’t it?) kicked back into form in this one, and had a combined 30 points with five minutes left in the third.
Joining them with pretty gargantuan numbers of her own was Sara-Rose Smith, who had 14 points with five minutes left herself. By the way, the Tigers are 7-2 when Smith scores double-digit points and 8-6 when she doesn’t. On Vandy’s side, Harbison continued to be a matchup nightmare for the Tigers, as she eclipsed 20 points with just over three minutes left in the third.
Ashton Judd also hit her stride and had a three put her in double-digit points for the first time in almost a month, as the freshman has had trouble adjusting to conference play. The Tigers finished the third on a 10-2 run and held a commanding 68-44 lead heading into the final frame. 68 points is more than Missouri scored total in any of their games in the month of January, and they got that in three quarters.
The fourth quarter was rather smooth sailing for Mizzou, as they looked to give their bench players some needed minutes. Hansen continued to light up the score sheet, and she and Frank combined for 45 points with 5:48 left in the fourth. An Averi Kroenke bucket with 2:20 left gave the Tigers 84 points, their highest scoring game of the season, and it wasn’t even over. This was quite the statement offensively after most fans were questioning the effectiveness of this team on that side of the ball.
An absolute clinic offensively ended with an 86-69 score line in favor of the Tigers. Missouri shot 56.9% from the field and were a coin flip’s percentage from beyond the arc (yes, I have been waiting to use that one.) The win snaps a 6-game losing streak and puts the Tigers to 15-8 on the season and 4-6 in SEC play.
As far as players of the game go, Hansen and Frank were fantastic, but Sara-Rose Smith was lights out. 6-6 from the field and 16 points, with five rebounds in only 21 minutes of action. Just an enormous game from the Australian tonight.
On Vandy’s side, a massive shoutout goes to Ciaja Harbison, who was just amazing tonight. She had 26 points and you’d be hard-pressed to find a team in the country that couldn’t use a player like her.
UP NEXT: Missouri will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide at home on Sunday, February 5th at 4 PM CST