Scoring should not be a problem for the Missouri women’s basketball team. Whether it will be able to hold opponents to fewer points is the big question surrounding the Tigers.
With the start of the regular season 3 1/2 weeks away, offense is Missouri’s obvious strength and defense is its obvious weakness.
The Tigers averaged 67.5 points last season, and the offense ranked sixth in the Big 12 Conference. Several key additions and a host of talented shooters and post players will provide a balanced attack that should improve Missouri’s offensive rank.
Missouri plays its first game Saturday in an exhibition against Southwest Baptist at 1 p.m. at Hearnes Center.
Senior Evan Unrau returns as the centerpiece of the offense after leading the team in scoring with 16 points per game last season, but coach Cindy Stein expects that Unrau will have even more opportunities to score.
“A lot of teams have been able to collapse and double-team Evan in the past,” Stein said. “I think that would be pretty tough to do right now with the type of people we have surrounding her.”
Senior Stretch James provides Missouri’s biggest threat in the post after averaging 10.3 points last season. Senior Melanie Fisher will provide another experienced and talented player down low when she returns from a back injury sometime this month. Christelle N’Garsanet, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Illinois Central College, has displayed a scoring touch inside and a strong physical presence that adds to Missouri’s interior depth.
Opponents will also have to respect senior Tracy Lozier and freshman Carlynn Savant, the Tigers’ main 3-point threats, as well as LaToya Bond, Missouri’s athletic point guard who can shoot and drive effectively.
“I really think we have a lot more versatility this year and that just makes us tougher to guard,” Stein said. “Obviously, we have some outstanding post players that we need to get the ball to and being able to surround them with good shooters that can read the defense will make it hard for teams to match up with us one-on-one.”
In stark contrast, Missouri’s defense allowed 64.1 points per game and ranked ninth in the Big 12 Conference last season. Despite stressing defense during the offseason and early this season, Stein sees plenty lot of room for improvement.
“Our defense has to improve right now because it is not where it needs to be,” Stein said. “When you ask what a weak area is, I’d have to tell you all of them.”
Stein said she specifically wants to see her team become more aggressive on defense by taking a charge or going after a loose ball.
Lozier, second on the team in steals last year, said she believes the Tigers need to become more vocal on defense. Lozier also stressed the importance of the team knowing where to be within specific defensive sets, but she notes it is up to the players more than the coaches to improve.
“We just need to work on playing team defense,” Lozier said. “More than anything, we just need to go out there and play hard because you can’t really teach defense, you just need know how to play tough.”
Although the defense might not be in form, Stein is looking forward to seeing how her team performs against some different competition.
“Saturday will be great to watch,” Stein said. “We’re getting sick of guarding each other because we know what to expect, but seeing a different team will say a lot about where our defense stands.”