Off to its best start since 2015-16, the Missouri Tigers women’s basketball team is facing its biggest matchup of the season Saturday night.
After being picked to finish 11th in the SEC in the preseason poll, Mizzou is undefeated through eight games in its 12th season under coach Robin Pingeton. The team has largely been untested so far, but that changes when it faces No. 5 Baylor (7-1) on the road at 7 p.m. in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The game will air on ESPNU.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity in front of us, we really are,” Pingeton said after a win on Thursday night. “We have a lot of respect for Baylor and we know it’s going to be a dogfight.”
If Mizzou is able to pull off the upset, it would match its entire win total (9) from each of the last seasons. To be at this point says a lot about the progress of the program, which had to rebuild following the loss of career leading scorer Sophie Cunningham to the WNBA in 2019.
The Tigers have won games by an average margin of 18.5 points so far this season, most recently defeating Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, 79-46, on Thursday night. Following that win, they rank No. 19 in RealTime RPI but have a strength of schedule rank of 90.
Though it’s mostly faced mid majors, Mizzou has impressed, particularly in shooting the ball. The team ranks 11th in the country in field goal percentage (48.3%) and its 39.2% mark on three-point attempts is the 14th-best nationally. Three players — Hayley Frank, Lauren Hansen, Izzy Higginbottom — have each made at least 11 three-pointers on over 44% shooting.
Six-foot guard Aijha Blackwell, a second team all-conference selection a season ago, has continued to propel the Tigers in her junior year. She is averaging a double-double of 16.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, which ranks seventh in the nation.
“Aijha’s got the ability to see plays sometimes before they even happen,” Pingeton said.
“She’s got really good court vision, she’s a very good passer. The things we keep trying to talk about is playing with pace. She’s so explosive and strong and very, very quick with the ball in her hands.”
Frank, a 6-foot-1 junior forward, has put up 14.9 points and 5.1 rebounds a night. Hansen, a 5-foot-8 junior guard, is the third Tiger averaging double figures, currently producing 11.5 points in just under 22 minutes per contest. Guards Mama Dembele and Haley Troup have been the catalysts of the team’s passing game, averaging 4.3 and 3.8 assists, respectively.
But the Tigers’ offense will face quite the challenge in Baylor, which has held opponents to 53.1 points per game and 32% shooting. The Bears have won seven games against mid-major teams, but suffered a 79-76 defeat to Maryland, which ranked No. 3 but shorthanded when they faced on Nov. 21.
Baylor is in its first year under Nicki Collen, the former coach of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream who left the league to take over the program after Kim Mulkey left for LSU.
The Bears have four players scoring in double figures this season as well, led by 6-foot-4 senior forward NaLyssa Smith. The All-American is averaging 19.3 points and 13.1 rebounds per game, which should make for a tough defensive assignment as Mizzou looks to keep its hot start to the season going.
“It’s going to be a battle. We know it’s going to be a battle for 40 minutes,” Blackwell said. “Just two good teams going at it. I think it’s best that we prepare well and watch film, do what we got to do to walk into that battle ready.”