COLUMBIA — As the next two days of the Winter Olympics pit Canada against the United States in hockey, the Missouri women's basketball team looks to contributions from players from both countries in its quest to beat Florida on Thursday.
Michelle Hudyn, a native of Kitchener, Ontario, is Missouri's only international player. She hasn't watched many Olympic events but she talks with other Canadian Missouri athletes about the hockey teams' progress. The sophomore has played in 16 games for Missouri (15-10, 4-8 SEC) this season, coming in off the bench.
Missouri Tigers (15-10, 4-8) vs. Florida Gators (17-8, 7-5)
Where: Stephen C. O'Connell Center
When: 6 p.m.
Radio: KTGR 100.5 FM, 103.1 FM, 1580 AM
Her most productive game came against Vanderbilt on Jan. 30. In that game, Hudyn played a season high 16 minutes and matched career highs by scoring six points and grabbing six rebounds. The 6-foot-2 forward came into the game for senior Bri Kulas in Missouri's 59-54 upset over the No. 16 Commodores.
Hudyn's hometown is more than 800 miles from Columbia. She goes home to see her family just three times a year – for a few weeks in May, another couple weeks in August and for a few days around Christmas.
However, Hudyn says the team feels like her second family and her teammates have helped her adjust to college life in the U.S. Skype has also played a large role in Hudyn's life, allowing her to stay connected to the people back home. Her mom, the main reason Hudyn started playing basketball, has even made it to three of her games this season. Her dad also made it to one.
Hudyn initially considered staying in Canada for college, but after getting used to playing the same girls, she wanted to try something different.
"I wanted to come to the States, and I wanted to challenge myself," Hudyn said. "I wanted to change it up a little bit."
Missouri approached Hudyn late in the recruiting process. Just like teammate Kayla McDowell, all Hudyn needed was to see the university in person to make her decision.
"I came for a visit and automatically fell in love with the school," Hudyn said. "I knew in my heart that was where I wanted to be."
Hudyn sees speed and physicality as the two main differences between basketball in Canada and the U.S. The sophomore has had to make adjustments to keep up with Southeastern Conference teams, but her height has helped her establish a place inside the lane. Hudyn has also noticed a growth in her confidence this season, as she is more willing to challenge and attack the basket.
Hudyn and her teammates travel to Gainesville, Fla., for the first time on Thursday. Missouri beat Florida 69-54 last season at Mizzou Arena, the first meeting between the two teams.
Florida (17-8, 7-5 SEC) is coming off a loss to Georgia but earned two wins against No. 15 Kentucky earlier in the season.
Missouri coach Robin Pingeton praised her team's rebounding effort in Sunday's win over Auburn. Missouri now leads the SEC, averaging 29.1 defensive rebounds per game.
The turnover troubles, however, continued against Auburn. Missouri committed 27 of them, but still managed to win that game on the road. The Tigers need to do a better job of taking care of the ball against Florida, as the Gators average 10.1 steals per game and have forced at least 17 turnovers in all except five games this season.
Junior Morgan Eye takes special responsibility in making sure her teammates aren't careless with the ball.
"I think as a leader on the team I need to make sure that everyone just kind of takes a deep breath," Eye said. "You know, sometimes when teams get on a run, especially when they're at home, and the crowd gets into it, it's just, take a step back, deep breath, and just make sure we're having poise with the ball."
With four games remaining, Pingeton is happy with her team's offense. Missouri is out-shooting opponents on the road in every category this season. The Tigers shoot 40.6 percent from the floor compared to opponents' 37.9, and shoot 41.0 percent from beyond the arc to opponents' 33.0. They also take advantage of free throw opportunities, shooting 79.5 percent compared to opponents' 67.6 percent.
If the Tigers come out shooting 3-pointers like they did against Auburn, it could be a long night for Florida. Missouri still leads the SEC in 3-pointers made per game (9.4) and Florida ranks last in the SEC in 3-point field goal defense (.334).