Replacing Kerensa Barr at point guard was the priority for the Missouri women’s basketball team in the offseason.
Barr, who has the Missouri record with 489 assists, was the Tigers undisputed floor leader the past three seasons. She is the only starter from last year’s team not returning and her graduation last spring left many wondering who could fill her shoes.
As the beginning of Missouri’s regular season approaches, LaToya Bond appears to be the Tigers’ answer at point guard, but a new question about the Missouri starting lineup is at the forefront.
Bond, a 5-foot-7 sophomore, might not be as outspoken on the court as Barr, but she is proving to be effective at the point. Her quickness, shooting and ability to penetrate has solidified her spot in what coach Cindy Stein said will be a more athletic lineup.
Meanwhile, senior Melanie Fisher’s back injury raises the question of who the Tigers’ starting center will be.
Junior Megan Roney, sophomore Cherice Mack and sophomore Christelle N’Garsanet are competing for the spot, but Stein said no player stands out.
“Right now we’re struggling to find the post player that makes the good pass, rebounds and plays tough defense,” Stein said. “Christelle, Cherice and Megan all do good things so we’re not leaving anyone out of the mix, but no one has just won it over on a consistent basis.”
Fisher, who started all 31 games last season, injured her back as a member of the Missouri softball team last spring. Because of the nature of Fisher’s injury, Stein does not want to rush Fisher back into the lineup, but she says her experience is invaluable.
“The center position is technically up for grabs, but seeing Melanie practice and the things that she does makes us a better team,” Stein said. “She is constantly talking, helping everyone know where to be and hustling on defense, and that is really what we need.”
The Tigers play Sparta Praha on Sunday in their last exhibition tune-up before the regular-season opener on Nov. 23 at Bradley.
With 10 days until the start of the regular season, Stein said she is not necessarily looking to decide playing time by position, but is just trying to figure out who will be in Missouri’s top eight rotation at the beginning of the season.
A look at Missouri’s lineup by position:
Bond’s impressive play during the preseason assures her a spot in the starting lineup. Freshman Blair Hardiek will become Bond’s main replacement off the bench, but Hardiek is continuing to learn her role at this crucial position.
While Hardiek develops, senior Tracy Lozier also will help run the point when Bond needs a break. Lozier knows the position well and Stein says her leadership is helping Bond and Hardiek learn the position.
After a breakout junior season, Lozier returns to the starting lineup as an invaluable senior leader. She led the Tigers in 3-point percentage last season and averaged 9.2 points.
Senior MyEsha Perkins is expected to be Lozier’s primary backup at shooting guard, but she is suspended for an undisclosed amount of time because of a violation of team rules.
Having started all but two games the past three seasons, Evan Unrau’s spot in the lineup was never in question. Unrau, Missouri’s leading scorer and rebounder last year with 16 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, is one of the top players in the Big 12 Conference and she will be counted on to carry the heaviest load for Missouri.
Carlynn Savant, the Tigers’ freshman 3-point specialist, will be the main backup small forward. Mack also is learning the position and Stein hopes she will continue to progress.
Senior Stretch James’ progression from a somewhat undisciplined junior college transfer to a dominant Big 12 Conference post player last season solidified her spot in this year’s starting lineup. James averaged 10.3 points and 5.6 rebounds last year, and she is expected to be a key to Missouri’s success this year.
Mack, Roney, N’Garsanet and freshman EeTisha Riddle are competing for backup playing time at power forward and center.
Fisher started all but two games since transferring from Southwest Missouri State two years ago, and expect her to be in the lineup when she returns to full health. Fisher continues to regain her form in practice, and Stein said she hopes Fisher is ready to play in two or three weeks.
In the meantime, Missouri needs the four players competing for the starting center spot to continue to develop.
Roney started in the Tigers first exhibition game, but N’Garsanet, a transfer from Illinois Central College, continues to get accustomed to the program and Mack’s athletic ability raises her status.
As the season wears on, Missouri’s post players off the bench might prove to be one of the most important factors in the Tigers’ success.