Later on Thursday evening at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network, your No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats (16-3) women’s basketball team will take on the Missouri Tigers (5-15) down in Columbia, MO.
This will be the first and only regular-season meeting between these two SEC foes.
Before we do anything, let’s look at a quick stats breakdown of who the Missouri Tigers are compared to the ‘Cats.
Kentucky leads the overall series, 7-4, although the Tigers have won three out of the previous four meetings. Head coach Matthew Mitchell is 6-3 against Mizzou since coming to Lexington.
Missouri is in the midst of arguably its most difficult stretch of the season right now (I say “arguably” because they recently opened SEC play with three straight losses against three ranked teams, including No. 1 South Carolina). They’re coming off a 19-point loss to a ranked Texas A&M team, face Kentucky on Thursday, then host a ranked Arkansas team the game after that. For a team that has already been reeling this season, the schedule is doing them no favors.
So, in reality, the 2-5 mark in conference play might be a bit deceiving. Granted, all five losses have been by double-digits, but all five have come against ranked opponents. Which feels unfair. But that’s the nature of schedule creation. Plus, the SEC has about five or six really good teams. Mizzou will have a relatively easy finish to the season compared to what they’re enduring right now. But we also shouldn’t ignore that the Tigers were handed several bad losses to teams such as Kansas City, Green Bay, and New Mexico, among others, earlier this year. In theory, Missouri could be vastly improved from, say, November, they just haven’t had the opportunity to play a team that won’t simply overpower them. The Tigers’ two SEC wins have come against LSU (14-5) and Ole Miss (7-13). Kentucky lost to LSU on the road just two games ago.
Kentucky will have its shot at figuring this five-win team out. KeKe McKinney is finally healthy, Rhyne Howard’s pinky is expected to be ready to go, and the ‘Cats should have a full, healthy roster for the first time in a few weeks.
So let’s quickly breakdown the Missouri roster, starting with the head coach: Robin Pingeton.
Currently in her 10th season at the helm for Missouri and her 25th as a head coach, Pingeton holds an overall record of 511-291 and has helped revitalize the Mizzou program ever since she took over, posting a 176-134 record since arriving in Columbia. Pingeton recently took the Tigers to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. They were knocked out of the second round in last year’s NCAA Tournament and beat Kentucky in the second round of the SEC Tournament.
Pingeton was named the SEC Coach of the Year in 2016-17, has led her program’s to 17 different postseason appearances, and averaged 23 wins over her last four seasons.
Roster turnover at the top has hampered Missouri this season. Losing superstar Sophie Cunningham to the WNBA was a massive hit in production. They also lost another senior, 6-foot-4 Cierra Porter, too. They’ve found ways to replace those two but in minor ways compared to a season ago. Two freshmen have made immediate and necessary impacts for Missouri. In total, Mizzou added six newcomers for this season.
Aijha Blackwell and Hayley Frank are the two youngsters filling it up for coach Pingeton. Blackwell is a 6-foot guard while Frank is a 6-foot-1 forward. They bring unique talents to their team and both rank in the top-30 among SEC players in scoring. They could be the first freshman duo in Missouri history to each average double-figures in scoring.
Blackwell, the No. 9 overall recruit in 2019, leads the team in scoring at 13.0 points to go along with 5.5 rebounds per game and a team-high 51 assists. Her shooting numbers are poor (36.5 percent from the field and 28 percent from deep), but there’s no denying that Blackwell is going to have the ball in her hands more often than not for the Tigers. She has turned the ball over a team-high 83 times (33 more than the second-highest on Missouri), so applying constant pressure and making her get rid of the ball will be a key early in the game for the ‘Cats.
As for Frank, the No. 26 recruit in 2019, she comes in at third on the team in scoring with 11.9 points per game to go along with 3.9 rebounds. She’s one of the team’s most dangerous shooting threats, with the ability to stretch the floor and knock down shots from deep (Frank is 30-83 – 36.1 percent – from behind the three-point line). Frank will likely come off the bench as a super-sub.
Alongside Blackwell in the starting unit will be four seniors; 5-foot-7 Jordan Chavis, 5-foot-9 Jordan Roundtree, 5-foot-11 Amber Smith, and 6-foot-2 Hannah Schuchts (redshirt).
Every single one of them can shoot. Chavis leads the team, shooting over 44 percent on 86 looks from three while the other three all connect on somewhere between 32 and 37 percent of their triples. As a team, the Tigers rank in the top-5 in the SEC and top-60 nationally in terms of three-pointers made. Chavis is one of the best snipers in the entire conference. Smith is the team’s second-leading scorer at just over 12 per game.
The size of Missouri is not one that will intimidate Kentucky. The ‘Cats are typically severely undersized and for once that will not be the case agaisnt the Tigers. In relation to height, Mizzou actually matchup up quite evenly with UK. Schuchts will give Kentucky the most fits in the paint, as she has already recorded 40 blocks; her 2.0 blocks per game rank fifth in the SEC.
But what Mizzou lacks in size they make up with their ability to shoot the hell out of the ball. Seven Tigers have knocked down at least 10 triples on the year (six Kentucky players have done the same). Mizzou also leads the SEC in free-throw percentage, making 73.4 percent of their looks from the charity stripe. Six Tigers shoot better than 80 percent from the line.
Missouri isn’t a great defensive team. They allow 72.2 points per game – one of the worst marks in Division I – and their opponents shoot over 34 percent from deep. The Tigers aren’t a team that’s going to force a ton of turnovers and they have been prone to serious foul trouble. The ‘Cats have done an improved job on the glass the past few games and they’ll need to capitalize on that against the Tigers.
Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network. Make sure to tune in.