There might not be a team Missouri women’s basketball is more familiar with than the Saint Louis Billikens.
In a decade when the Tigers changed conferences — losing longtime rivalries and kindling new ones in the process — nonconference matchups with the in-state foes have been a near-constant. On Thursday at Mizzou Arena, the two teams will go head-to-head for the eighth time in nine years.
The series has been dominated by Missouri, which holds a 22-1 lead in its all-time meetings with Saint Louis. This year’s team, however, has not inspired confidence against traditionally beatable opponents.
In its season opener, Missouri needed overtime to survive a Western Illinois team it had bested in 11 of 12 previous meetings. The following week, the Tigers fell to Northern Iowa after entering with a 6-0 all-time advantage.
Missouri’s struggles have extended beyond that pair of games, leaving the Tigers with a 2-6 record one month into the season — the program’s worst start since 1975. A trip to Mexico last week was not enough to rejuvenate the team where the Tigers fell to New Mexico and North Carolina in its pair of Cancun Challenge games.
After its Thanksgiving travels, Missouri is desperate for some home cooking and a return to the win column. Amber Smith and Hayley Frank, arguably the Tigers’ brightest stars so far, may be trusted to lead the way.
Smith, Missouri’s top scorer with 15.3 points per game, has scored double figures in the past two meetings with the Billikens, including a double-double last year in which she grabbed 13 rebounds. She has recently bucked the Tigers’ season-long trend of poor shooting, making at least half of her field goals in three consecutive games.
Frank has emerged in a big way over the past few weeks, scoring double figures in six straight games. The freshman struggled to make an impact in the first two games of her career, but has hit her groove since. A 29-point performance against New Mexico earned her a start against North Carolina, her first since the season opener.
Saint Louis comes to Columbia with a 6-2 record, most recently beating Southeast Missouri State at home Tuesday. The Billikens had an easy time with SIU-Edwardsville, their lone common opponent with Missouri, crushing the Cougars 68-35 on Nov. 20. The Tigers produced a less dominant 68-51 win over SIUE four days later.
Saint Louis’ scoring has been a bit more balanced than Missouri’s, with three starters — Rachel Kent, Kendra Wilken and Ciaja Harbison — averaging double figures. Lisa Stone has coached the Billikens since 2012, making this the seventh matchup between her and Pingeton.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Mizzou Arena. The game will be streamed live on SEC Network+ with Missouri’s radio broadcast airing on KTGR.