In another must-win game for Mizzou (16-10, 5-8 SEC), the Tigers travel to College Station to face off against the Texas A&M Aggies (6-17, 1-12 SEC) on a rare Monday evening game. Although the Aggies are last in not only the conference standings but overall standings, they’re still a skilled team with a lot of weapons.
As I’ve said plenty of times, what’s shown on paper is never as indicative of how a team plays and their talent. Head coach Joni Taylor is in her first year at the helm of the Aggies after a seven year tenure as Georgia’s head coach. She was an assistant at Georgia for four years prior to taking the reins for the Bulldogs. Taylor did a great job of retention, only losing two to the portal and bringing in Tineya Hilton who followed her from Georgia. In addition to Hilton, all of Georgia’s 2022 recruiting class under Taylor decommitted and followed her to A&M.
The stakes are incredibly high for the Tigers. After defeating the Bulldogs, Charlie Creme put Mizzou back in the bubble watch as the next four out. Even if A&M isn’t a team with the same stakes as Mizzou, the Tigers must take this matchup as serious as any other one.
Before I give my keys to the game, I want to thank everyone for the positive feedback and direct messages on last game’s preview about confidence. I wholeheartedly appreciate all of it.
1. Defend the bench
When reading through A&M’s game notes, one statistic that stood out to me was how great their bench plays. According to the notes, “The A&M bench has been on a roll over the past six games. It is averaging 31.2 points per contest and is led by freshman standout Janiah Barker who is averaging 13.3 points during that stretch off the pine. Barker leads all freshmen and bench players in the SEC in points per game since her return from injury.”
Congrats to our @Whataburger Players of the Month for January— Texas A&M Athletics (@12thMan) February 2, 2023
• @AggieWBB's Janiah Barker
• @AggieSwimDive's Victor Povzner #GigEm pic.twitter.com/FJyUI9TwLJ
For context on how great this is, the Aggies are last in the SEC in points per game with 54.8. Mizzou is directly above them at 11th with 65.7 points per game. If there was any advantage overall that favors the Aggies, it’d be Barker and the bench. As an added tidbit, Barker was the 3rd best overall prospect for the class of 2022 so her production shouldn’t shock any opposing defenses.
I’m not saying that Mizzou should only focus on defending the bench. They obviously need to defend everyone but once Barker and the bench enter the game and with the hot streak they’re on, the Aggies’ bench needs to be on the forefront of their minds.
2. Bringing hot shooting to Texas
As of the forecast, it is going to be in the mid-70s in College Station. Welcome to February in Texas. And when the Tigers regained their confidence after the slow start to the Mississippi State game, Mizzou’s shooting was scorching. They shot 46% from the floor and 55% (11-20) from three. The scoring was headlined by Hayley Frank’s 22 points, Lauren Hansen’s 20 and Ashton Judd’s career-high 17. The trio accounted for 10 of Mizzou’s 11 three pointers made (Sara-Rose Smith draining the other one).
Milestone achieved ✔️@hayfrank43 passed Sandie Prophete to move into 10th on Missouri's all-time scoring leaderboard pic.twitter.com/hjLw1x3CjZ— Mizzou Basketball (@MizzouWBB) February 18, 2023
It was like a breath of fresh air to see their shooting mojo come back to life. However, A&M is so good at home — all six of their wins coming at Reed Arena — that Mizzou’s shooting might not matter. The Aggies are currently holding opponents to 57.5 points per game inside Reed Arena with shooting averages of 37.9% from the field and 25.1% from beyond the arc. This could make the Tigers’ three-point shooting, which is their strong suit, hard to maintain.
Into the record books pic.twitter.com/aVRQWrwMwY— Mizzou Basketball (@MizzouWBB) February 17, 2023
But with the Tigers’ confidence seemingly on a rise coming off a prolific scoring game (albeit at home), they should have no problem buying into and believing in themselves and their shooting. Additionally, spreading the floor on their shots and going inside like they did great against Mississippi State will keep the Aggies’ defense on their toes.
3. Clamp up on defense
I know I mentioned bench defense before, but I’d be remiss not to highlight a huge aspect of the Tigers’ win last week against the Bulldogs. That game was literally their best defensive game in terms of steals since 2017 against New Orleans.
Claws and clamps— Mizzou Basketball (@MizzouWBB) February 19, 2023
Mizzou swiped 15 steals on Thursday, the most by the team since Dec. 2, 2017 against New Orleans. pic.twitter.com/KBOsveEybi
When they kept forcing turnovers left and right against the Bulldogs and played hard-nosed defense, results happened. Momentum shifted, which led to that 13-point win. I was so impressed that when I saw this next stat tweeted by Mizzou Women’s Basketball, my jaw dropped in awe.
Tiger takeaways— Mizzou Basketball (@MizzouWBB) February 19, 2023
Missouri has forced 20+ turnovers in back-to-back conference games for the first time since Jan. 17 and Jan. 20, 2010. pic.twitter.com/1qqlQpBGYw
I did not fully realize that Mizzou forced 21 turnovers against Arkansas and it just didn’t click until I saw the above tweet. The team forcing back-to-back 20+ turnovers in conference play since the 2010 is stunning. With an A&M team who turns the ball over a conference-high 18.8 per game (including 15 at home), Mizzou’s defense needs to interrupt the passing lanes early and fast. Getting points off turnovers is also a must, something they lacked heavily against Arkansas but did great in against Mississippi State with 20.
A&M is not a team to look down upon due to their rankings. Nothing is ever predictable in the game of basketball, and especially in the SEC. To keep the Tigers’ tournament hopes alive, this game is a must win out of all the must wins. At least it is in my opinion.
Also, I will be in attendance at Reed Arena. Be sure to follow me on twitter for live coverage of this matchup.