By Lucas Owens
The Mizzou Tigers women’s basketball season got off with a bang Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers came into this season off a great performance in their 2018-2019 campaign, which ended with an appearance in the round of 32. This game was possibly even more anticipated though from the first appearance of freshman Hayley Frank and Aijha Blackwell.
Frank showed no signs of nerves in the first quarter, as she immediately came out and scored seven. Despite her and various other Tigers getting out to hot starts, Western Illinois found a way to keep up: three pointers. The Leathernecks shot an insane 71% from three point range in the first, going 5-7.
Western Illinois continued their inspired play in the second frame, as they continued to push the three ball and play tight defense. Mizzou had a difficult time this quarter mainly due to turnovers after rebounds, but were kept in the game primarily by two players: Jordan Chavis and Hayley Frank. Chavis was an absolute force in the second, going 6-8 from the field, and 3-5 from three point range for 15 points. Hayley Frank continued her strong offensive play from the first, but primarily contributed on defense where she came up with a few great rebounds.
The third quarter was more of the same for Mizzou, except that Western Illinois came out of the break fiery hot. Mizzou switched to a 1-3-1 defensive scheme to try to stop the Leathernecks’ offense.
“We had to do something,” Mizzou coach Robin Pingeton said, “We couldn’t guard our shadow. We knew we needed a change up at half. They’re so good at attacking, close outs, you force the help defense and then they swing it and make that one extra pass or they do a great job of putting themselves in a position to get to that free throw line and we could not contain them”
The Leathernecks’ defensive strategy shifted to a lot of pressing and double teams, putting a lot of pressure on a young Mizzou Tigers team. That, combined with continued success from beyond the three point line, led Western Illinois to a nine point lead at one point.
However, after a Mizzou timeout, the Tigers came out fiery hot, led by Elle Brown. Brown came in after the timeout and immediately scored six to cut the Western Illinois lead. Western Illinois then got back on pace, and both teams entered the fourth quarter with a Leatherneck lead, 64-60.
The fourth quarter was marked by a huge surge for the Tigers to tie it up, before both teams went back and forth trading the lead. Mizzou’s Amber Smith specifically played incredibly inspired, and both teams looked very intense. Bodies were hitting the floor for loose balls, elbows hit on rebounds and tough play all around. Ultimately, regulation ended tied up at 81 and Mizzou Arena was gifted with at least five minutes of free basketball.
Fortunes turned in overtime for the Mizzou Tigers, as they quickly jumped out to a large lead and controlled the pace of the game. The Tigers, through their good play and a string of missed shots for the Leathernecks, were able to secure a seven-point lead with just one minute left in overtime. The Tigers continued to persevere and won the game in overtime 97-89.
Mizzou ended the night shooting 38-77 from the field and 12-26 from three-point range. The Western Illinois Leathernecks shot 33-81 from the field and 12-32 from three.
While most upperclassmen for the Tigers made strong contributions, the two star freshman Aijha Blackwell and Hayley Frank noticeably did not, despite starting. Blackwell only scored one point on a free throw, while Frank contributed nine points to the Mizzou effort before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
“Tough night for our freshman,” Pingeton said, “I told them in the locker room after the game it is a marathon not a sprint. There’s going to be tough games but those two are elite level kids and they’re going to be just fine.”
The standout for Mizzou was by far Senior Amber Smith, who posted a double-double with 27 points and 15 rebounds. She also led the team emotionally and mentally, as her play off the glass invigorated the Mizzou defense.
“It’s not just me,” Smith said, “yes, we all have voices but its just who wants to be the loudest in the moment and I think we work well together.”
Mizzou is now 1-0 on the season, and will face Nebraska at Mizzou Arena this Sunday.
Edited by Emma Moloney | email@example.com