Attempting to stop a six-game losing streak, Missouri women’s basketball returns home to take on Vanderbilt and Alabama on Thursday and Sunday, respectively. The Tigers sit squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble and need some positive momentum to start building their résumé back up.
Stopping the skid
After beginning Southeastern Conference play with three straight wins, Missouri has lost six league games in a row.
Shooting struggles, turnovers and rebounding have all contributed to the skid, but now, the Tigers enter a new month with all of their goals still within reach.
“If we want to get to the NCAA Tournament, we’ve got to have a really big February,” Tigers coach Robin Pingeton said. “It’s important that we approach every game like it’s a tournament game.”
At this time of the season, every team is jockeying for position in the conference standings and looking to strengthen their NCAA Tournament résumés. Missouri certainly qualifies as one of those teams, as it is currently projected as one of the “Next Four Out,” according to ESPN’s Charlie Creme.
To get back on the right side of the bubble, Pingeton knows her team needs to do the small things right to win.
“The challenge for players is just playing a little bit more gritty, a little bit more connected,” Pingeton said. “I think there’s some breakdown in our communication that we’ve got to be better at defensively.”
Voices in the locker room
Going through a losing streak like this one can be incredibly taxing on a team’s confidence and overall mental well-being. In times like these, a team needs veteran leaders to step up and take control.
“Those of us that are veterans, (Hayley Frank), Lauren (Hansen), Mama (Dembele), myself ... even Katlyn Gilbert,” Haley Troup said regarding who has stepped up to lead. “Even though it’s her first year here, (Gilbert) is mature and has been through some stuff at Notre Dame.”
Frank, Hansen, Dembele and Troup have all played three seasons together at MU. They have developed into team leaders under Pingeton, which was exactly what the veteran coach envisioned.
“I recruited a bunch of competitors,” Pingeton said. “They want to win as much as anybody, so we’ve just got to stay true to the process.”
Racking up wins in February is a must if the Tigers want to have a shot at erasing the bad memories of last year’s NCAA Tournament selection day.
To start, Missouri (14-8, 3-6 SEC) needs to get back in the win column.
“We’re gonna get one,” Troup said. “It’s gonna happen, and we know it has to happen to finish the year strong.”
Commodores looking for another SEC win
Vanderbilt sits at 10-12 overall with a 1-7 conference record. But while this game may look like a much-needed opportunity for a comfortable Missouri win, the Commodores are fresh off their first league victory and have some momentum.
Vanderbilt took down Texas A&M 88-79 on Sunday to climb above the Aggies in the SEC standings. Veteran guard Ciaja Harbison led the way with 41 points on 14-of-19 shooting against the Aggies, tying the program’s single-game points record. The Saint Louis transfer averages 19.6 points per game and has scored more than 30 points in three games this season.
According to Pingeton, the key to stopping Harbison and the Commodores lies in the transition game.
“You play so much of the game in transition defense,” Pingeton said. “I think we did a decent job when we made teams play on top of us and we were set. We have to continue to have that connectivity and use our voices.”
The Tigers and Commodores tip off at 8 p.m. Thursday at Mizzou Arena. The game can be seen on SEC Network.