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The 2022-23 Mizzou WBB Season: A tale of missed opportunities & unfortunate setbacks

The Tigers raised many questions and left few answers after a campaign that ended with a 2nd Round WNIT loss

NCAA Womens Basketball: Missouri at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The 13th season of Robin Pingeton’s career at Mizzou was a rocky one, to say the least. After losing four players to the transfer portal, including Aijha Blackwell and newly-crowned national champion (and WNBA draftee), LaDazhia Williams, all eyes were on how this program could prevail.

The Tigers were projected by the media to finish 12th in the SEC, and after the previous year’s NCAA snub, had their eyes on the prize. But how would they get there? A big question was how the team would adjust with a lack of size and depth on the roster. To (somewhat) address the depth issue, they added in new mom and experienced Notre Dame transfer Katlyn Gilbert. But the size was still an issue, and as we would soon discover, many other problems plagued this Tigers roster.

Ultimately, the 9th-place Tigers just did not have enough of a motor to reach their NCAA Tournament aspirations. It was a true roller coaster of a season for the team and fans alike. Let’s look at how the season came to be.

Team Statistics

Points Per Game: 64.6

Field Goal Percentage: 43.3%

3-Point Percentage: 35.3%

3 Pointers Made Per Game: 7.4

Assists Per Game: 13.5

Points Allowed Per Game: 62.3

Rebounds Per Game: 33.1

Rebounds Allowed Per Game: 33.6

Turnovers Per Game: 15.3

Turnovers Forced Per Game: 14.9

Season in Review

After what started as a promising 14-2 season, the Tigers collapsed in SEC play. But let’s backtrack for a second to non-conference play. The Tigers ended the early portion of their schedule 11-2 with losses against eventual NCAA Tournament teams, Virginia Tech (who reached the Final Four) and Illinois. Early on, they were one of the top-scoring offenses in the NCAA. Their defense was so good in early December they were ranked 15th in the NCAA in points allowed. It seemed like they had found what it took to contend against the SEC’s high-octane scoring machines.

The Tigers then started off SEC play with a bang, going 3-0 with wins over Kentucky at home and road wins against Auburn and Alabama. In each of these wins, Mizzou showed their ability to play gritty, as they held their own on defense when teams threatened to take the game. Instead of a collapse, they persevered.

But, the season took a dramatic turn from there as the Tigers then went through a very bad stretch, losing six in a row, with the first four losses coming against a murderer’s row of opponents in Arkansas, LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The controversial loss against Tennessee might have been a season changer, in hindsight. It was what most would consider a good game overall. But a fourth quarter collapse and a crucial missed over-and-back call all but sealed the loss for Mizzou, and a lack of confidence prevailed in the final two games of the losing streak against decidedly less competitive Georgia and Kentucky squads.

The Tigers got back into the win column against Vanderbilt before another full-on collapse against Alabama in the fourth quarter and a complete blowout by Arkansas. Not ideal for those tourney hopes, and thus showed a disturbing fourth quarter trend.

The Tigers then regrouped and went on a two-game win streak against Mississippi State at home and on the road against Texas A&M before dropping the final two games against eventual Sweet 16 darling Ole Miss and Florida. A major catalyst in those losses was the lack of height; it’s hard to expect much of a team where the tallest consistent player in the lineup is 6’3 and not nearly as skilled as some of the other SEC-level posts. To be frank, horrific shot selection and lack of ball movement by Lauren Hansen in particular did not help the case of getting the offense flowing. As a team, the turnovers never helped their case in trying to spark any rhythm. It was a repetitive plague that truly couldn’t be cured.

The Tigers’ SEC tournament game against Arkansas started with heavy momentum, as the Tigers led the Razorbacks throughout the first three quarters and it seemed like they’d snap their long losing streaking against the Hogs. Instead, the Razorbacks rallied and outscored the Tigers 29-10, tying Mizzou with just over five minutes to go in the game before rolling Missouri over and knocking them out of the tournament.

While they were understandably left out of the NCAA Tournament, Mizzou accepted a WNIT bid and hosted Coach Pingeton’s former team, Illinois State. Unlike their next game (more on that in a bit), the Tigers matched up evenly with the Redbirds overall. While they had to contend with the dynamic Paige Robinson, now a member of the Dallas Wings and Illinois State’s first-ever draft pick, they were able to hold her to 0% shooting. Mizzou found their ability to shut down the stars, which allowed them to get a dominant 61-51 win over the MVC champs and bring back the Border War showdown.

If it wasn’t for KU’s first round Big 12 tournament upset to TCU, they would’ve easily found themselves in the NCAA tournament, as their lineup was stacked from top to bottom. Their height, particularly that of 6’6 Taiyanna Jackson, allowed the team in Lawrence to have their way with Mizzou in the paint on both offense and defense, leaving the Tigers no way to gain any momentum. Facing each other for the first time since February 2012, the Jayhawks ran the Tigers out of Allen Fieldhouse with a 75-47 win en route to a WNIT championship, ending Mizzou’s season at 18-14.

Most Valuable Player: Hayley Frank

No one put the Tigers on their backs more than Frank. It was highly expected that Frank would take the bulk of the Mizzou’s offense after the departure of Blackwell. The SEC coaches knew that and named her Preseason All-SEC Second Team.

But with greater reliance on offense comes greater responsibility to show out, and opponents understood the necessity to clamp down on Frank defensively, limiting her to single digits seven times. On the bright side, Frank upped her points per game average from last season with 15.4. She averaged a career-high 1.7 assists per game and her defense improved with a career-high total of 34 steals. Her efforts landed her a spot on the All-SEC Second Team. This season might’ve been an adjustment for Frank, but still exceeded our expectations and she showed up every game ready to play hard. (the graphic does not include WNIT statistics)

Hayley Frank’s career statistics as of the conclusion of the 2022-2023 season.

Most Improved: Sara-Rose Smith

This is a no-brainer. Smith had a career year for Mizzou, finishing with a stat line of 6.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 25 steals. Her double-double off the bench in the Tigers’ first-round WNIT game helped seal the W.

In part two of the feature on Smith last month, it was detailed how she knew last summer that once the offseason started, it was time for her to step up in a huge way. Smith’s determination to improve proved fruitful for a team who needed someone to fill in the primary rebounder spot. She took that role and dominated.

Sara-Rose Smith’s career statistics as of the conclusion of the 2022-2023 season.

Newcomer of the Year: Ashton Judd

In the roster preview, Judd was identified as an under-the-radar get for Mizzou. The Tigers were very involved in the recruitment of Judd and got rewarded once the season ended.

The 6-foot guard/forward was unranked by major recruiting sites, which was more than likely due to playing for a Class 5A high school rather than a lack of talent. Judd led her team to a State Championship and District Championship while putting up ridiculous numbers.

Judd was so good at times she was awarded SEC Freshman of the Week after a great stretch against Mississippi State (17 points, 2 steals) and Texas A&M (16 points, 7 rebounds on 87.5% shooting). Judd’s overall effort this season earned her a spot on the 2022-2023 All-SEC Freshman Team.

Looking ahead

Who’s out?

After six years in the black and gold, Haley Troup exhausted her eligibility. And on March 28, Lauren Hansen entered the transfer portal intending to use her COVID eligibility elsewhere. On April 5, Jayla Kelly announced her entrance into the transfer portal for her last two years of eligibility.

Troup’s departure was anticipated and planned, but let’s take a look at what she meant to this team this past year. Troup was a 37.4% three-point shooter, good for third on the team behind Hayley Frank and Ashton Judd. She was also second on the team in assists, and third on the team in points, meaning a significant portion of the Tigers' production would be cut if it was just her leaving.

However, the Hansen news means the Tigers will be losing even more production from the guard position. While Hansen was not nearly as efficient as Troup — she was near the bottom of the team in field goal percentage — her leaving means not one but two three-point specialists have exited this roster. Their departures also mean the Tigers' two best free-throw shooters are gone, and while that stat may not seem as important as the three-pointers or the field goals in general, it is very noticeable in late-game situations.

Mizzou had a very tough time defending bigs this season and keeping them from scoring 20+ points. The void in the big department got even larger after Jayla Kelly announced she was entering the transfer portal. While she wasn’t a big-time scorer, Kelly showed she could be a big body and actually defend SEC posts. Finding a big is an absolute necessity for Coach Pingeton now. She has to fill not only the void left by Kelly’s departure but also try to find some of that size and skill that Blackwell and Williams’ departures last year brought.

Who’s in?

That we know of, Missouri will welcome four freshmen: Hannah Linthacum, Grace Slaughter, Abbey Schreacke and Skylar Jones.

Grace Slaughter, a Grain Valley, MO native, is the 53rd-ranked player in the country in the 2023 HoopGirls Top100, and she was also named the 2022-23 Gatorade Missouri Women’s Basketball Player of the Year this past season. Slaughter is more of a player that can play on the wings, so she would best be served as a taller Hansen replacement in the lineup at 6’1, and is by far the most impressive player coming in.

Skylar Jones, who hails from Chicago’s Whitney Young (Dennis Gates’ alma mater), comes in as the 96th-ranked player in the 2023 HoopGirls Top100, and she also plays as a wing. She, like Slaughter, is pretty tall at 6’0 but possesses the ball skills to play as a good wing.

Hannah Linthacum, the younger sister of Sarah and Micah, is a 6’3 forward from Jeff City who averaged a double-double in both of her final two years in high school and displays a pretty good presence around the rim. She is unseasoned with how young she is but she can develop into a pretty good big as she garners more minutes.

Abbey Schreacke is a born-winner, as she led her Quincy Notre Dame team to a 2A State Championship as a junior, all whilst averaging an astounding 26.2 points per game as a 6-foot guard. The only question mark with Schreacke is coming from a 2A background; it might take her some time to get acclimated to SEC basketball, but she has the size and skill to fit right into this team and she most definitely has the scoring ability.

What now?

An 18-14 record on the surface seems to be a decent stepping stone, but in reality, it was a season that displayed missed-out potential. This team started off hot and finished off very cold for the second year in a row. If Pingeton can’t make significant pickups in the portal to fill in the holes of this team and gear up for at the very least a tourney appearance, then she most likely will be gone, per the conversations with Mizzou AD Desiree Reed-Francois. It’s very clear that she has a lot of pressure on her and it rides on this next season, so Missouri fans should keep their eyes peeled for some big moves this offseason.