COLUMBIA — After finishing a stretch of seven out of eight games against ranked opponents, the Missouri women's basketball team heads into the final six games of the season with the possibility of facing only one ranked team, No. 8 Tennessee.
The first of three games remaining at Mizzou Arena is Sunday's matchup against Alabama (10-12, 3-6 Southeastern Conference). The game is the annual Play 4Kay game in support of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. Missouri (14-9, 3-7 SEC) is 3-1 all-time against Alabama. The Tigers beat Alabama 88-64 on the road at the end of last season. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.
Missouri Tigers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide
Where: Mizzou Arena
When: 2 p.m.
Radio: KTGR 100.5 FM, 103.1 FM, 1580 AM
Sunday's game is the annual Play 4Kay game in support of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. Admission is $1 for fans who wear pink. All proceeds benefit Susan G. Komen of Mid-Missouri.
Here are six things to know about Missouri women's basketball ahead of its final six games before the SEC tournament.
1. Turnover troubles prove costly
Missouri finished its nonconference schedule averaging 16.4 turnovers per game. Since entering conference play, that number has not changed much as the Tigers average 16.5 turnovers per game. In the last two games, both losses, the Tigers have racked up 40 turnovers.
Sophomore Lianna Doty has seen individual improvement. Doty's assist-to-turnover ratio last season was 1.0. The point guard has been much more comfortable in her position this year, and that ratio has increased to 1.7.
After Thursday's loss to LSU, Missouri coach Robin Pingeton knows her team needs to take better care of the ball.
"I thought we continued to battle; we cut it down to eight (points)," Pingeton said. "But you can't dig yourself such a big hole and then try and find a way to dig yourself out of it."
2. The Tigers like to share
Missouri on Sunday faces Alabama, a team that averages just 12 assists per game. The Tigers enjoy sharing the ball as they rank third in the SEC, averaging 16.1 assists per game, an increase from last season's 15.4 mark. Missouri's point guards have played a large role in that increase. Doty and redshirt freshman Lindsey Cunningham have combined for 176 assists and 108 turnovers. Doty is fifth in the SEC with 5.7 assists per game and is now in the top 10 of Missouri's all-time assists leaders with 282 assists. Unselfishness from the Tigers has also allowed three or more players to score double digits in 12 games this season.
3. Missouri still owns the long ball
The Tigers have once again used the 3-pointer to test opponents' defenses. After making 263 3-point field goals last season, Missouri has made 219 this season with six games still left to play. Pingeton's team leads the SEC with 9.5 3-pointers per game. Missouri averages 3.4 more treys per game than Arkansas, which places second in the SEC.
After breaking the Missouri career 3-point field goal record in January, junior Morgan Eye leads the team with 75 3-pointers. The Tigers also get significant contributions from Maddie and Morgan Stock, who have combined for 70 3-pointers. Senior Bri Kulas leads the SEC with a 51.2 3-point field goal percentage, while Missouri as a team ranks second in the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage (.382).
4. The freshmen can play
Freshmen Jordan Frericks has started every game for Missouri this season and averages 7.7 rebounds per game. Frericks leads the team with 33 blocked shots and 37 steals, thanks in large part to what Pingeton calls her "crazy, big" wingspan. Fellow freshmen Kayla McDowell and Sierra Michaelis have created opportunities coming in off the bench. McDowell, who comes in for Frericks off the bench, has provided Missouri with a strong post presence, averaging 4.3 rebounds per game. Michaelis has logged more minutes in recent SEC games. She took advantage of the 20 minutes she played at Mississippi State, making all four of the shots she attempted.
5. Bri Kulas is making the most of her senior season
The senior from Shawnee Mission, Kan., may only be in her second year at Missouri after transferring from Johnson Community College, but Kulas has shown a large improvement in her final year on the Tigers. After averaging 13.8 points per game last season, Kulas is averaging 18.9 points per game, good for second in the SEC. When it comes to conference games, Kulas leads the SEC averaging 21.2 points. Kulas has also improved her free-throw shooting from 73 percent last year to 82.2 percent so far this season. Kulas and Tennessee senior Meighan Simmons are the only players in the SEC to score 10 or more field goals in at least four games this season. The two will face off Feb. 23 when Tennessee travels to Mizzou Arena.
6. Tigers have a shot at another upset
Speaking of Feb. 23, the Tigers will have their chance to repeat last season's win against No. 8 Tennessee when the Volunteers return to Columbia. Missouri already has two wins against Top-25 teams this season, but Tennessee (19-4, 8-2 SEC) will provide a tough test. The Volunteers are on a five-game win streak and rank second in the SEC behind South Carolina. The Tigers need three more wins to match last season's win total in SEC games.