COLUMBIA – Kayla McDowell wasn't sure about attending MU. The Cincinnati native was worried that traveling more than 400 miles to attend college would take her too far from her family.
But the freshman has known Missouri assistant coach Michael Porter her entire life. It was Porter who convinced McDowell to give Missouri a chance and visit the campus.
Missouri Tigers vs. No. 16 Vanderbilt Commodores
Where: Mizzou Arena
When: 7 p.m.
Radio: KTGR 100.5 FM, 103.1 FM, 1580 AM
That visit changed McDowell's mind.
"After I got here, getting to know the girls, I just feel like it's a second family," McDowell said.
The youngest Tigers have grown closer together since their arrival at Missouri. Sierra Michaelis, Jordan Frericks and McDowell live together in the dorms and plan to live together next year as well.
"I thought maybe at some point I'd get sick of them, but I haven't," McDowell said with a laugh.
Michaelis also described the trio's relationship as a familial one.
"I feel like we're sisters," Michaelis said. "We've only known each other like seven months or something like that, but it seems like we've known each other seven years."
According to Michaelis, the trio spends the majority of their time off the court at teammates Morgan Eye and Bree Fowler's house.
"We've probably overstayed our welcome, but we don't care what they say," Michaelis said with a smile.
When the teammates aren't watching television, they make team dinners. One person is in charge of making a meal for a group of teammates, and the team switches off who cooks the meal.
McDowell may be far from her family in Ohio, but her second family here in Missouri has helped ease the transition into college.
"We really depend on each other," McDowell said. "As a freshman, there's lots of ups and downs, so we definitely look to each other for support."
Both McDowell and Michaelis acknowledge that most Southeastern Conference teams are more athletic than Missouri, but that doesn't deter the freshmen from contributing. McDowell averages 17.4 minutes and 6.5 points per game. Michaelis has played in all but five games and averages 5.9 minutes and 3.5 points per game.
Michaelis made the most of her 20 minutes in Sunday's loss at Mississippi State, making all four shots she attempted. McDowell finished the game with 4 points and four rebounds.
Missouri begins its second stretch of facing at least three ranked teams against No. 16 Vanderbilt on Thursday night. Vanderbilt (16-4, 5-2 SEC) leads the SEC in field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage, while Missouri (13-7, 2-5 SEC) leads the SEC in 3-point field goals made.
Vanderbilt’s first trip to Columbia will showcase the two top scorers in the SEC: Vanderbilt senior Christina Foggie and Missouri senior Bri Kulas. Foggie averages 19.5 points per game and has scored in double digits in all but two of Vanderbilt’s games. Kulas averages 18.8 points per game and has scored double-digit points in all but two of Missouri’s games.
"We're definitely going to have our hands full," Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. "I mean, (Jasmine) Lister and Foggie are two really, really talented players, two of the best in the league, and then they're surrounded with a very strong supporting cast."
Pingeton likes her team’s focus and attention to detail. She just needs her team to play smarter.
"I do feel like there is a light at the end of this tunnel," Pingeton said. "I don't know when we're finally gonna knock down that brick wall and get another win on that scoreboard, but this is a group that understands the challenges of a very, very good SEC league."
Thursday's game is the third meeting between the two teams. Missouri lost both games against Vanderbilt last season. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Mizzou Arena.