Missouri women’s basketball’s tight victory over Troy on Tuesday night meant a 5-0 start for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
Now, the Tigers will leave Missouri for the first time and head to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for the Christmas City Classic, where they will take on Columbia University in the semifinals. If Missouri wins Saturday, it will then face the winner of host Lehigh and Rider on Sunday.
The Lions are off to a nice start to the season. They are 5-1 with wins over two power conference teams, Georgetown and Clemson, and their lone defeat coming against Stony Brook.
They are led by guard Abbey Hsu. The sophomore is averaging 19.3 points for a team that likes to get up and down the court. The key for Missouri will be to take away her ability to shoot from the outside, as Hsu is attempting more than 10 3-pointers a game at a 37.7% clip.
Coming off a game where the Tigers were outstanding rebounding the ball, this should be a game where they control the glass. Columbia comes into the tournament getting outrebounded by five boards a game. Look for junior guard Aijha Blackwell to have another huge outing on the glass as she averages a double-double.
On the other side of the bracket Rider will take on Lehigh. Lehigh is off to a solid 3-1 start with its only loss coming to Seton Hall. On the other hand, Rider is still looking for its first win of the young season.
Rider, in its 15th year under coach Lynn Milligan, is in the midst of a rebuilding season. The roster consists of only three seniors, but the future could be bright for the Broncos. Sophomore guard Makayla Firebaugh was named Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year last spring and is hoping to lead Rider to its first win this weekend.
Lehigh, like Troy, is another team that likes to push the pace and go deep into its bench. The Mountain Hawks have nine players that average more than 10 minutes per game, meaning Missouri will have to prepare for a lot of different skill sets. Offensively, they are led by junior forward Frannie Hottinger who is averaging 19.8 points and 7.0 rebounds this season. Her ability to play inside and out will provide a nice test for Blackwell and Hayley Frank in a potential championship game.
For the Tigers, this road trip provides two positives. The first is an opportunity to play two games in a tournament setting. Seeing quality opponents on back-to-back days this early in the season is something that’s going to help Missouri when it comes time for the SEC Tournament.
The second is it allows one of its players to get on the court a little closer to home. Junior guard Lauren Hansen is a native of Albany, New York, which is about a three-hour drive from Bethlehem. She will surely have some family in the crowd Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
“We were trying to get Lauren a little bit closer to home,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “Going South is always nice, but I think taking care of your players and getting them closer to where they’re from is really important, too.”