Mississippi State was as advertised — simply the better team. It outrebounded, outshot, out defended, outplayed and at times outhustled Missouri women’s basketball en route to a 79-64 win Thursday night.
Missouri had an answer for Jessika Carter, the Bulldogs’ second-leading scorer who replaced Teaira McCowan, now in the WNBA. The double-double averaging forward finished with only eight points and four rebounds, but it was the rest of the team for whom Missouri couldn’t account.
The Bulldogs were hot from almost everywhere on the court, shooting just under 50% for the game. Where they were really lethal, though, was from the top of the lane.
Mississippi State could hit jumpers off the dribble at the free-throw line, pop it from the elbow coming off a screen, drain it with a hand in the face and create space to pull back and hit shots off the drive.
“I felt like we were all just in our groove, playing good defense and just doing what we do best — the dribble drive,” freshman Rickea Jackson said.
Jackson was one of three Bulldogs who finished in double figures and picked apart Missouri’s defense. She outdid her career-high, leading all scorers with 21 points and finishing a rebound shy of a double-double. Graduate transfer Jordan Danberry finished with 18, and junior Chloe Bibby added 13, knocking down three treys.
Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer complained that his young team hasn’t been able to put together a complete four quarters this season. The Tigers can empathize.
Missouri outscored the Bulldogs by seven in the second half, reduced its turnovers from 18 in the first half to five in the second and put together a press that slightly slowed down the offense. But that kind of turnaround wasn’t enough to negate a 9-2 run by Mississippi State to start the game and continuous scoring droughts in the first half.
“They threw the first punch in the first half. It’s hard to win games when you turn over the ball 18 times (in the first half). You’ve got to give them a lot of credit, they just get after you defensively,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said.
From where does the inability to finish games come? There’s a number of areas in Missouri’s game that could use improvement, but part of it could be attributed to how much the team relies on its youth.
Aijha Blackwell earned a starting role after proving to be an electric freshman with an ability to bring a certain emotion and passion to the court. She’s the third-leading scorer for the Tigers and has continually broken her career highs. Pingeton has lauded her ability to see the court, and Blackwell can make plays and shots come from seemingly nothing. An inbounds pass to herself off the back of a Mississippi State player is a prime example of her creativity that she brings to the Tigers.
But she also has the inexperience of a freshman and is prone to turning over the ball. Five of the 18 turnovers in the first half came at the hands of Blackwell, and she often forces a pass where no play can be created. Her upside also brings a bit of a learning curve, but the future of Missouri’s program will benefit greatly from her gaining experience against teams like Mississippi State.
Arkansas is another opportunity for Blackwell to pick up experience and the rest of Missouri to put together a complete game. Tipoff against the No. 21 team in the nation is set for 2 p.m. Sunday in Fayetteville.