Mizzou women’s basketball season outlook plagued by injuries

Coming off a historic season, the team will have much to work on in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament again.
Sophomore guard Sophie Cunningham, 3, pauses outside the key to redirect an offensive play during the MU home game facing Truman State.

Mizzou Arena was quiet on March 14. Every Missouri basketball player was sitting down, looking up at the screen with anticipation, hands clasped together. Then the broadcaster spoke.

Suddenly, the crowd exploded.

Missouri women’s basketball had just secured an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time since 2006. The women would later win their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2001. All this came with 22 wins in a season, the most since 2000-01.

In short, last season was a phenomenal year for the Tigers. This season, which began Friday, will be just as trying but comes with higher expectations.

Mizzou was ranked No. 24 by the AP in the preseason poll, thanks in part to last season’s success. However, that ranking comes along with a serious injury bug.

Junior Bri Porter and senior Jordan Frericks are both out for the season due to ACL injuries. Frericks’ absence will be especially felt, given that her rebounding abilities played a huge role in Mizzou’s success last season.

“My hope is that we’ll be a top-10 or top-15 rebounding team in the country,” head coach Robin Pingeton said. “And that’s just because it’s a blue-collar, hard-nosed mentality.”

The injuries don’t stop there. Pingeton has had to hold back sophomore Cierra Porter — a cornerstone for Mizzou — from playing too much thanks to swollen knee problems. This has forced Pingeton to play small ball in the beginning of the season. If Porter doesn’t recover fully in time, playing small ball might continue during SEC play, and Mizzou will not unlock its full potential.

Redshirt junior Kayla McDowell is also being held back, and when she’ll begin competing is uncertain, Pingeton said.

“Not going to lie, I’m not sleeping well right now with the number of injuries that we’ve had,” Pingeon said.

All these injuries have meant a working process to figure out the right system for Missouri’s new team. There is added pressure on star sophomore Sophie Cunningham, and the rest of the Tigers — especially the rookies — will need to step up.

“As a freshman, you kind to want to just get comfortable, but by about December or January, they’re saying, ‘I want to play,’” Pingeton said. “So what a great opportunity for them to come in and have a chance to make an impact [immediately] as a freshman.”

Right off the bat, in exhibition and regular season games so far, the team has been winning with higher field goal percentages. The number of steals forced have been impressive so far, and many players have been scoring double figures. Rebounding needs to improve, though, as especially highlighted in the first exhibition game.

These contributions aren’t coming from one player but from a collective team effort. The focus on defense from all the players is a hidden benefit of Frericks’ injury, and it may prove to be for the better once Frericks graduates and leaves the team.

The team started its regular season with the Preseason WNIT Tournament, which takes place Nov. 11-20. The Tigers will have the chance to compete with teams who were in the NCAA Tournament last March. The tournament includes No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 17 Washington.

The season is full of untested waters, and it will be a hard road. Nobody can fully predict how the freshman players will develop, and injuries are preventing the team from showcasing its true talent.

But the Tigers will play as fiercely as they can.

“My expectations are night in and night out, we’re going to go out there and play as hard as we can possibly play,” Pingeton said. “We’re not focused on our win-losses. When the season’s done, we want to say we’ve played the best basketball that we could have, and the results will take care of itself.”

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