Amber Smith drives toward the basket (copy)

Amber Smith drives toward the basket Thursday as Missouri takes on South Carolina at Mizzou Arena in Columbia. Smith will be key to Missouri’s success Sunday against Ole Miss at Oxford, Mississippi.

Missouri women’s basketball could use a change of fortune.

In the past 10 days, the Tigers have suffered double-digit losses against three of the SEC’s top teams. To make things worse, their already-thin roster took a hit when redshirt freshman reserve Brittany Garner left the program, leaving MU with just nine players who have seen the court this season.

On Sunday, Missouri will visit Ole Miss, a foe that has been through its own share of recent struggles.

After serving as the SEC’s doormat last season, the Rebels have yet to show much improvement in coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin’s second season. Recent losses to Texas A&M and Tennessee by a combined 100 points highlight Ole Miss’ 0-4 start to SEC play, and show just how far the team lags behind in conference play.

The contrast between Missouri’s recent stretch and Sunday’s challenge could hardly be sharper. Mississippi State, Arkansas and South Carolina, the Tigers’ last three opponents, boast the top three scoring offenses in the SEC. Ole Miss is dead last with just 58.4 points per game.

The Bulldogs, Razorbacks and Gamecocks are all ranked in the top 50 nationally in RPI. The Rebels slot in at No. 251, 90 places behind Missouri, the conference’s second-lowest ranked team.

To put it simply, this is a game Missouri needs to win. Ole Miss is at home and well-rested after a Thursday bye, but the Tigers won’t have many better chances to earn an SEC victory.

Keeping the Rebels’ low-scoring offense in check will be key. Ole Miss has only scored 70 or more points on five occasions this season, but it won each of those contests. Deja Cage and Valerie Nesbitt, the Rebels’ two scorers averaging in double figures, will be the most important threats to contain.

Missouri could use some consistency from its three most dynamic players — Amber Smith, Hayley Frank and Aijha Blackwell. The senior star (Smith) and rising freshmen have all had their moments, but the Tigers haven’t managed to get all their cylinders firing at once. If that trio is able to avoid foul trouble and find a shooting groove in Oxford, those three could start to provide the scoring Missouri has been missing.

The Tigers are 9-0 against the Rebels since joining the SEC, but neither team will feel much positive momentum entering the teams’ first meeting of 2020. A win Sunday could go a long way in the battle for positioning in the lower half of the conference standings.

Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. Sunday in Oxford, Mississippi. The game will be streamed live on SEC Network+, and Missouri’s radio broadcast will air on KTGR.

  • Sports reporter for spring 2019, studying sports journalism. Reach me at owen.krucoff@gmail.com, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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