COLUMBIA – It had been a month since the Missouri women's basketball team played at Mizzou Arena. Two unimpressive exhibition wins is all new coach Robin Pingeton had shown the home crowd. After seven road games to open the season, the young Tigers have started to find their way, and it showed in their first home game of the year on Tuesday night.
The Tigers used solid defense, a consistent transition game and a height advantage in the paint to defeat Tennessee-Martin 53-30.
Maybe the biggest change since the Tiger’ exhibition games has been the emergence of sophomore guard Sydney Crafton. She has shown steady improvement since being thrown into the starting lineup when Bekah Mills was lost for the season with an ACL injury, and Tuesday was Crafton's best game yet.
With the Tigers leading 41-19 with 11 minutes left in the game, Crafton stole the ball and led a fast break down the right side of the court. The defense retreated to the basket, so Crafton attacked. She made it to the lane before the defense swarmed her, but she took one more dribble – behind her back – and laid it in.
Crafton and senior guard RaeShara Brown had a field day in transition all night. They each scored 15 points to lead the team.
“Coach made a point of emphasis talking in pregame, challenging us about how hard we can run our lanes,” Brown said. “We did a good job of just putting our head down and getting out and running. I think we did a great job of sharing the ball and seeing people in transition.”
Crafton also led the team with 11 rebounds. Despite being a guard, she is second on the team in rebounding, averaging seven per game. No matter how tall you are, Crafton says fundamentals are what leads to rebounds.
“You’ve just got to get in there and box out,” Crafton said. “Then jump and get the ball.”
The Tigers have been struggling at times this season to find scoring from players not named RaeShara Brown or Christine Flores. Crafton has shown great athleticism and has given the Tigers a spark on offense.
“She (Crafton) does a little bit of everything,” Pingeton said. “She’s got to get more consistent at the three ball, but she’s got great hands, she can create off the dribble. Definitely an added piece offensively that we absolutely need.”
Crafton figures to be a big part of the Tigers' offense moving forward.
“Syd’s probably going to be our little secret here come Big 12,” Brown said. “Syd has embraced her role. I think she’s becoming more confident in learning when to take her shots. She’s going to get even better from here.”
Despite the 23-point win, the Tigers didn’t get off to the start they wanted in their first home game of the season. Two turnovers on the first two possessions of the game reminded the home crowd of the sloppiness they saw in the first two exhibition games. The Tigers, who had only turned the ball over 26 times during the past two games, had 21 turnovers on Tuesday.
“Unforced turnovers, careless turnovers,” Pingeton said. “There’s no reason we should’ve had as many turnovers as we did tonight. When you’re turning the ball over that many times, that’s 21 times you didn’t get an opportunity to score a basket.”
Bothered by the Tigers' height inside, the Skyhawks (4-4) had a tough night shooting. They were forced to shoot 21 three-pointers, and they made just four. They shot 19 percent from the field. Heather Butler led the Skyhawks with 12 points.
"Defensively, the girls are doing a great job of being locked in and being assignment correct," Pingeton said.