COLUMBIA — In Missouri's second year in the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers have two players running the show.
They don't lead the team in scoring, but sophomore Lianna Doty and redshirt freshman Lindsey Cunningham cherish their roles as leaders as the team’s primary point guards.
Missouri Tigers vs. No. 14 LSU Tigers
Where: Mizzou Arena
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
TV: Mediacom 22
Radio: KTGR 100.5 FM, 103.1 FM, 1580 AM
"You get to put people in the best positions to be most successful and that, honestly, is so much fun," Doty said. "Hitting people for the open passes, hitting them in rhythm and seeing them succeed."
Missouri averages 16.9 assists per game, third in the SEC. Thursday's opponent, No. 14 LSU averages 14.3 assists per game.
As point guards, Doty and Cunningham are responsible for controlling the tempo of the game. The two don't shy away from that responsibility.
Both started their careers at Missouri at the same time. Unlike many, Doty doesn't see Cunningham as a freshman.
"She's been around, she's been practicing, she's been SEC basketball, she's watched every game just as much as all the rest of us sophomores," Doty said. "So she's really, like, in our group."
Doty found herself drawn to the point guard position because of her size – she’s Missouri’s shortest player at 5-foot-7 – and because she enjoyed ballhandling.
"Whether it's defensively or offensively, knowing when we need to stir things up, knowing when we need to push," Doty said. "It’s a lot of fun handing your teammates sweet assists."
Cunningham watched Missouri's first year in the SEC in dress clothes from the bench. The Columbia native practiced with the team and studied every game, two things she said contributed to the mental toughness that helps her in games this season.
"To actually be out there playing, you learn a lot more and really get a feel for where you're at," Cunningham said. "Just being in control and getting my teammates the ball has always been an important thing for me."
Cunningham has recorded an assist in all but two games this season, while Doty has recorded 10 assists in two games, a career high for the sophomore. The duo has accounted for 135 assists to 73 turnovers, good for a 1.85 turnover ratio.
But against the best teams of the SEC, those numbers have sagged. After two games with less than 10 turnovers against Arkansas and then No. 25 Georgia, Missouri totaled 17 turnovers in Sunday’s loss to No. 9 Kentucky.
Missouri coach Robin Pingeton considers LSU one of the bigger teams Missouri will have to face this year, and Missouri is focusing on what it can do to control those turnovers.
"I think the biggest thing is not making those 50-50 passes," Cunningham said. "Making sure that the pass that you're making is going to get there, but we've also talked about not making a soft pass that leads to two points at the other end."
Missouri is 2-3 all-time against LSU. Last season, Missouri lost 78-74 in overtime. Pingeton likes what she’s seen from her team.
"I think we're so much further ahead of where we were at a year ago," Pingeton said. "We are doing a better job taking care of the ball, but in games like this, it's going to come down to every single possession, and so we've just got to continue to shore up on both ends of the court."
No. 14 LSU (13-3, 2-1 SEC) started conference play with a win against No. 5 Tennessee before losing to Texas A&M on Jan. 9. LSU comes to Columbia after defeating Florida 82-68 on Sunday.