This evening, Mizzou (17-10, 6-8 SEC) will play their final road game of the regular season when they battle Ole Miss (20-7, 9-5 SEC) in Oxford. Mizzou is on a two-game win streak after their monstrous 61-35 win against Texas A&M. On the other side, Ole Miss is riding a two-game losing streak after a heartbreaking 57-64 overtime home loss to South Carolina.
Coach Yolette McPhee-McCuin (better known as Coach Yo) completely revamped this Ole Miss team into a dominating threat in the SEC. She hit the historical 20-win season in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1993-1994 and 1994-1995. She brought in dominant transfers like Myah Taylor from Mississippi State and Marquesha Davis from Arkansas to bolster the starting lineup.
Flashback to my preview ahead of the eventual Mizzou loss to Alabama on February 5: Alabama just came off a heartbreaking loss to South Carolina and came out for vengeance against the Tigers. There is absolutely zero doubt in my mind that this will be the same fight and mindset Ole Miss will head into this game with.
The implications for the Tigers are huge in this game, especially on the road. Mizzou progressed from “last four our” to “first four out” following the win over A&M. The bubble can be burst at any time, but a road win over a dominant Ole Miss team, who hasn’t beaten Mizzou at home since the Tigers entered the SEC in 2013, will bring a huge boost to the tournament resumé.
This game is a must win for Mizzou. Here are my keys to the game.
1. Ball control
In the postgame media availability after the Texas A&M game, Coach Robin Pingeton made it clear that ball control was something she wasn’t too happy about. Although the Tigers only turned the ball over twice in the first half, A&M’s defense forced some quick turnovers in the beginning of the half. Overall, Mizzou turned the ball over 15 times. On the bright side, that’s technically below their average of 15.7 per game.
Something Coach Yo has emphasized throughout this whole season is defense. With Mizzou’s constant turnover struggles, Ole Miss will have no problem taking advantage in transition defense. According to the Rebels’ game notes, they’re 19th in the nation in scoring defense, have held opponents to 55.6 points per game and is 18-0 when they hold opponent to below 60 points. They force 16.7 turnovers per game which, as I’ve said before, does not fare well for the Tigers.
If the Tigers are able to recreate the ball control from the aforementioned first half of the A&M game, that’ll keep the Rebels on their toes.
2. Shoot for 60
Again, Ole Miss is 18-0 when they hold opponents to below 60. Well, a huge key for Mizzou just so happens to be the number 60. When Mizzou scores 60 points, they’re 17-3. But they’re facing a huge barrier when it comes to what 60 means for Ole Miss.
So how can the Tigers hit the 60 mark and come out with the win? Offensive efficiency is clearly the best answer here. Of course, the offense is heavily relied on how Hayley Frank produces. She had 11 against A&M. There’s no doubt Ole Miss will put two or even three bodies onto Frank. When that happens, Lauren Hansen needs to produce. If she doesn’t, welcome Ashton Judd.
If teams haven’t paid attention to the double-digit scoring tear she’s on, then they’re focusing on the wrong thing. Judd leading all scorers against A&M should put Ole Miss on red alert for the damage she can do to their defense. She and Katlyn Gilbert will presumably anchor the bench if Sara-Rose Smith is tabbed as the starter again. Pingeton mentioned in post-game that Jayla Kelly is injured and on a “game-to-game” basis.
Judd’s offensive prowess and proving that she can and will develop into a three-level scorer is a major threat to opposing defenses. It’s a welcome sight for a Mizzou offense that only averages 65.5 points per game. If anyone is going to help anchor the Tiger offense to hit the 60 mark, it’ll be her.
3. Offense wins games, defense wins championships.
Y’all all know the world-famous saying so why not put it here. No, this isn’t a championship game; I am very much aware of that. But every single game since the start of the current win streak has been treated like one. Mizzou’s grittiness and toughness is back, although it took a moment to reignite.
Ole Miss is one of the best teams in regard to post offense in the conference. They’re 8th in the SEC, under Mizzou who is 7th, in field goal percentage with 42.4%. Mizzou is shooting 43.9%. Absolutely do not let their shooting percentage fool you. Their interior offense is fueled by Madison Scott, who is shooting 51.7% from the field. She lives in the paint which correlates to her stat line of 11.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
Ole Miss is going to try their hardest to pound the paint against a Mizzou team that lacks height in the post. They’ll force it down low even more if Kelly is inevitably ruled out. The Tigers defense needs to try their absolute hardest to defend and even switch up the schematics. It worked against A&M and Mississippi State. Of course each team is different, but Mizzou needs to prepare for any type of offensive set Ole Miss runs. Forcing turnovers wherever possible and scoring in transition will help out a ton.