It was a great evening to be a Mizzou fan and reporter at Reed Arena. The Tigers (17-10, 6-8 SEC), despite exhaustion and an injury to Jayla Kelly, prevailed against Texas A&M (6-18, 1-13) in a dominating 61-35 fashion.
In my preview, I wrote how hard it is to play at Reed. I wrote about how the Aggies might not have the best overall statistics and record but they’re still a scary team that needs to be taken seriously. Coach Pingeton agreed.
“I was very concerned about this game. A&M is a very talented team and I know people probably look at me like I’m crazy because of their record,” Pingeton said.
Pingeton continued, talking about how they have the no. 3 player in the nation, Janiah Barker, no. 37 player, Sydney Bowles and no. 81 player, Mya Petticord. She stressed how talented this Aggie team was and how if it wasn’t for them being plagued with injuries, their record would be different.
With Kelly sitting out for precautionary reasons, Sara-Rose Smith got the starting nod, her second of the season. It was a welcome site to see Smith playing near starter minutes and producing despite still being hampered with a hamstring injury. This late scratch and switch in the starting lineup caused the Aggies to alter theirs to try and match up better.
“They typically play two bigs and might have a hard time playing on the perimeter,” Pingeton said post-game. “[They] started four guards and one post player who’s pretty athletic in Aaliyah Patty but [Smith] is our leading rebounder.”
Pingeton relied on a different defensive scheme than the usual 3-2 zone they’re accustomed to. It proved lethal in the first half as they forced nine turnovers and only committed two. The defensive intensity continued into the second half where they forced seven turnovers for a total of 16. This led to great transition offense as the Tigers scored 12 points off turnovers. Hayley Frank continued to take charges, totaling five on the evening.
Overall, the Tigers only allowed the Aggies to shoot 26% from the field and 16% from three. A&M only scored a total of 10 points in the first half, allowing Mizzou to jump in front, 25-10. This was the second lowest half point total the Tigers have allowed this season.
A&M’s bench scoring is lethal, averaging 31.2 points per game before this game. Mizzou’s defense played so well that it held the Aggie bench to only 10 points (Barker had seven of them). Limiting the bench on their home court shows the defensive intensity the Tigers played with throughout the entire game.
“We talked a lot about just the controllable [aspects] of the game and that starts with your defensive intensity, and it felt like a team we really wanted to guard inside out,” Coach P said in the postgame. She continued, “I think our girls did a great job at investing in the scouting report, understanding angles and taking away the [bench] players’ strengths.”
Mizzou’s offense played exceptionally well in a tough environment, and as I mentioned in the preview, the Aggies make it hard for opposing offenses to score, only allowing 57.5ppg. Mizzou was able to drop 61, with the majority of the points coming in the second half. There was a great balance of scoring from both the starters and the bench in this one— so balanced, in fact, that it was only separated by a point. The starters, led by Frank and Troup, who each recorded 11 points, set the bar for the bench to dominate.
“[We] didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in the first half (32.1% from the floor and 25% from three) but came out in the second half and shot it real well (78.9% from the floor and 66.7% from three)... just proud of the balanced scoring,” Pingeton said.
The bench scoring was led by Ashton Judd, who is currently on a double-digit scoring tear. In these past five games, she’s averaging 11.8 points per game. Her sole single-digit game in this time period was four points against Arkansas. She wasn’t afraid of cutting and driving through the lanes for contested layups.
“Judd obviously had some really big minutes (24) for us,” Coach P said. “She got a few more shots today obviously when you go 7-8. She just looked really confident out there and she plays hard. I think she’s a three-level scorer and not afraid of the moment.”
The Tigers showed tons of resiliency and confidence in this showdown. Mizzou looked like they were having a lot of fun and appeared to be lot more relaxed out there than during the losing streak. Getting a much-needed road win to boost the NCAA tournament résumé was extremely important, regardless of A&M’s record. The Tigers’ confidence is peaking and at what fans would say is the perfect time.
Up next: The Tigers head to Oxford, MS to face off against the Ole Miss Rebels on Thursday, February 23 at 6:00 p.m. CT on SECN+.