The journey of Missouri women’s basketball (4-3) in conference play has been treacherous and eye-opening. With a two-game losing streak brewing, traveling to Auburn (5-6) on Sunday could be the light at the end of a dark tunnel.
After opening SEC play with losses against then-undefeated Alabama and No. 10 Arkansas, Missouri has more work to do as it continues to truck along this season. Major takeaways from its losses are turnover troubles and a struggle to play a full four quarters.
Junior guard Haley Troup and sophomore Hayley Frank lead a second-half rally, chipping away at Arkansas’ 11-point lead, but 19 turnovers killed any chance Missouri had of a comeback or an upset.
Live-ball turnovers have been a major Achilles heel for Missouri for the past four years. According to HerHoops.com, Missouri averaged 15 or more turnovers per game for the past three seasons. It is averaging 17.3 turnovers this season.
Playing a full four quarters is something many coaches and players strive for, but it’s something Missouri hasn’t accomplished consistently. In the past two games, the Tigers have struggled to keep their foot on the gas pedal. Against the Crimson Tide, the Tigers went blow for blow in the first half, entering the third quarter tied 34-34.
The second half gave way for a 12-point run by Alabama and essentially led to its 74-59 victory. Missouri’s three-point loss to Arkansas went almost the same way. Forward Ladazhia Williamsgave the Tigers an early 8-0 lead in the first two minutes, but Missouri was outscored 45-26 in the rest of the first half. Missouri clawed back with runs in the third and fourth quarters, but Arkansas’ shooting was just enough to edge out the Tigers and avoid an upset.
Despite the Tigers giving the Razorbacks all they had, with five players scoring in double-digits, the choppy offensive play continues to be a misplaced piece in coach Robin Pingeton’s puzzle. This puzzle, which has been the theme of this transitional young Tiger team, has many pieces that could grant it its first win over a more middle-of-the-pack SEC team in Auburn.
“I think we got good pieces. It’s just with every day — whether that be at practice or a game, we got to continue to get better and evolve because I think there are some pretty talented kids on this team,” Pingeton said in the Arkansas post-game interview. “I think we’re still learning each other … we’re behind and that isn’t even an excuse, that’s just reality. So I’m really looking forward to this week of practice trying to get caught up on some things and clean up some things.”
Auburn is on its own hunt to win its first game in the SEC. The last time Auburn won was a 94-81 win against North Florida on Dec. 17.
To overcome Missouri, it will have to turn around the usual scoring drought it suffers in the first quarter. In SEC play so far, Auburn has struggled to get the gears going offensively, scoring eight points in the first quarter of its 62-58 loss to Ole Miss on Thursday.
Despite Auburn being a slow-burning fire when it comes to first-half scoring, it still maintains that same resilience Missouri has when it comes to staying in the game. The driving force behind these comeback performances is senior Unique Thompson, who was recently named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 Watch List. The 6-foot-3 forward leads her squad in scoring and rebounding, averaging 18.8 points and 15.3 rebounds per game.
Since conference play started, Thompson has been unavailable due to medical reasons, leaving Auburn in a tough spot. With Auburn’s top player out, Missouri still has some players to be on the watch out for.
Filling in the gaps for the past three games for Auburn are guard Honesty Scott-Grayson and freshman forward Romi Levy. In their last game against Ole Miss, Scott-Grayson scored a career-high 23 points in what was Auburn’s best effort in SEC play so far. Levy has put together a solid performance in every game, scoring inside the paint and pulling it out to the 3-point line.
At 2 p.m. Sunday in the Auburn Arena, each team will look for its first SEC victory. With a bit of a layover on Missouri’s end after the postponement of the team’s matchup with Vanderbilt, the Tigers are eager to be back on the court and get more games under their belt.