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Mizzou WBB preview: Tigers venture west to face rival Jayhawks in the WNIT

The Border War is back with higher stakes.

Jaydyn Isiminger/Mizzou Athletics

For the first time since 2012, Mizzou (18-13) and Kansas (20-11) women’s basketball will face off in the historical rivalry at Allen Fieldhouse. The last time these two teams met happened to be in Lawrence where Mizzou came out with a 70-65 win. This time the stakes are a lot higher. This is not just a random regular season or conference tournament game. This is the WNIT where every play matters. How perfect it is that the WNIT put Mizzou and Kansas into the same section of the bracket as if they knew this was the only way to bring the rivalry back.

I don’t need to explain how important a game against Kansas is. From 6th grade until around my junior year of high school, I was on the other side of this rivalry, actively rooting for the Jayhawks but not necessarily against the Tigers. This will be my first ever women’s basketball game I will root for Mizzou while writing this preview. Let my family rivalry commence!

While I was scouting Kansas, I noticed something vastly different between them and us. In basketball, depth is so crucial to the success of a team. Even though the Jayhawks played well this season, coach Brandon Schneider does not utilize his bench. This proved correct in their upset in the first round Big 12 tournament loss against Texas Christian. Their bench only scored a total of two points and no one reached eight minutes of playing time. They’re ranked 335th in the NCAA in bench points per game with 9.4.

Mizzou runs an offense that specializes in points off the bench. They mainly come from Sara-Rose Smith and Ashton Judd but it’s good enough to be ranked at 91st with 20.5 per game. Barring some last-minute shake-ups, those two should be anchoring the bench.

Kansas is a scoring machine just like Mizzou is in some ways. The Jayhawks are averaging 73.2 points per game with four players averaging double-digits. When guard Zakiyah Franklin isn’t draining buckets from everywhere, Taiyanna Jackson, a 6’6 center, will always be in the low block to drain a layup or secure a put-back. Jackson is so tough to stop which can be seen with her 15 points and 12.7 rebounds per game season average.

Schneider’s squad treasures their defensive abilities everywhere on the court. They force 14.5 turnovers per game which is not a cheerful sight to see if you’re Mizzou. We all know the Tigers are prone to the turnover bug, committing 15.2 per game. If there is a game to convert zero turnovers, especially unforced, it’s this evening in a hostile environment.

The Tigers need to focus on what they do best and do it quickly. Every single person on the court, especially with the name Hayley Frank and Sara-Rose Smith, must score. Although Kansas has Jackson down low in the post hungry to swat away any shot that comes near her, the Tigers are very skilled in backdoor cuts with a high success rate. The Jayhawks are going to try and clamp down on the perimeter knowing the Tigers’ offense is centered around the three. When Mizzou spreads the floor with great spacing and ball movement, it causes defenses to get confused. Suddenly Mama Dembele is driving left past all the tall defenders and converts the layup or passes it to a teammate hanging beyond the arc waiting to drain the shot.

Both Mizzou and Kansas know what this game means beyond a chance to face Nebraska in the next round. The Tigers are venturing into enemy territory trying to prove they can fight and win on the road against their biggest rival. This game is 10 years in the making even if it was “random.”

Mizzou takes on Kansas this evening at 6:30 pm CST on ESPN+. You can listen to the radio call on KTGR and the Varsity Network.