The Maneater

Missouri women's basketball to face Auburn in opening round of SEC Championship

If there is more team play and more ball movement as seen at the beginning of the season, the Tigers may very well find the winning stride they found at the beginning of the year.

Following the Senior Day announcements, junior Jordan Frericks was honored with a commemorative 1,000 point basketball to honor her status as the 33rd Missouri women's basketball player to surpass this milestone.

There’s no denying that despite Missouri women’s basketball’s incredible season, record-breaking performances, the rise of a freshman superstar and one of the best records in program history, the last two games, both losses, have left a sour taste in the Tigers’ mouths.

A tough loss to Kentucky in Lexington and an upset on their home court on Senior Day is not how the Tigers had planned to enter the Southeastern Conference tournament. The poor performances have left many wondering how the the team can possibly make a run at the title.

But with the right performances, the right opponents and a little bit of luck, it’s possible the Tigers will make even more history.

40 Minutes of Playing Together

Freshman Sophie Cunningham, now a well-known name around not only Columbia, but also the entire country, consistently puts up amazing performances on the court. But her statements off the court hit the nail on the head of what this team must do throughout this tournament to be successful.

“We have yet to put a game of 40 minutes all together,” Cunningham said after the loss at Vanderbilt. “Hopefully, this tournament we can do that, because we have to pull up our sleeves and get to work.”

Cunningham couldn’t have been more correct. Lately, in the losses that have capped the Tigers’ season, there has been too much reliability on individual performance and not enough on team performance.

Others must step up

Against Kentucky, Cunningham turned heads with a 29-point performance along with a 10-rebound game, but her teammates failed to pick up the slack. Her teammates combined had only 30 points to her 29, and the Tigers went on to lose by 10 in Lexington. If one or two more players had been able to find the basket half as many times as Cunningham, the Tigers would be entering this tournament in a different light.

However, when a player is on, you feed her the ball and let her carry the squad. Perhaps in other games, when that player is off, the points can balance across the board?

While a good point, Mizzou’s most recent loss proved that balance on the stat line doesn’t necessarily mean victory. In their upset loss to Vanderbilt, the Tigers had four players reach nine or more points by the end of the contest. Still, anyone watching that game could tell that outside of Cunningham and her sister Lindsey Cunningham, Missouri couldn’t move the ball well, if at all.

The Tigers must reach the team play that they had at the beginning and middle of the season where four or five players were reaching five assists on top of the amazing performances by Sophie Cunningham and Jordan Frericks.

If there is more team play and more ball movement as seen at the beginning of the season, the Tigers may very well find the winning stride they found at the beginning of the year.

Luck

With Missouri earning a seventh seed, they will face Auburn first in their trip to Jacksonville. In a winnable game in its own right, the Tigers should be favored and should find a victory as they did earlier in the season in a game where three different Tigers reached double-digit points.

The Tigers face Auburn in Jacksonville, Florida, on March 2.

However, the daunting task of beating No. 3 South Carolina, a team with one loss to No. 1 Connecticut, lies ahead. The Tigers must study film from South Carolina’s near-losses to Texas A&M in both of their respective encounters. It will take a sound defensive performance, a massive effort on the boards and a stroke of luck, the same of which nearly brought the Aggies victory over the No. 3 team in the land.

If the Tigers make it out of the shredder that is South Carolina, they will most likely face the only team that has pushed South Carolina to their limits this season, Texas A&M.

After that, it will most likely be Mississippi State in the final. It’s a tall order, but with the right amount of luck, more dazzling performances from Sophie Cunningham and help from the rest of the squad and the bench, this season could break even more records.

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