COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri women's basketball team is back in action after nearly two weeks off and another last-minute cancellation due to COVID-19 issues.
After its Jan. 3 91-88 loss at No. 10 Arkansas, Missouri knew its next game, at home last Thursday against Vanderbilt, had been postponed because of coronavirus issues with the Commodores. Missouri coach Robin Pingeton expressed a desire to play a game in its place, but couldn't find an opponent. Then after traveling to Auburn, Ala., for a game Sunday against Auburn, the Tigers saw it postponed less than four hours before the opening tip due to COVID issues with their opponent.
The Tigers (4-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) take on Mississippi (7-2, 1-2 SEC) in Oxford at 6 p.m. today on SEC Network-Plus.
Missouri has not lost to Mississippi while a member of the SEC, going 11-for-11 in conference matchups, including three wins last year.
Mississippi is much-improved defensively from the team that went 7-23 last year and winless in the SEC, bolstered by a few key transfers. In 2019-20, the Rebels averaged 56.6 points per game (50.8 in conference play) and allowed 69 points per game (75.6 in conference), were minus-8.5 in rebounding margin and allowed opponents to shoot 42.7 percent from the field.
This year, Mississippi has averaged 77.7 points per game while allowing 53.9 points per game, the 16th-best scoring defense nationally and tops in the SEC, and opponents are shooting 33 percent overall, the 18th-best field goal percentage defense. Those numbers dip slightly in conference-only play, where the Rebels have lost to LSU in overtime, beat Auburn and lost a close game to arch-rivals Mississippi State, with opponents shooting 42.4 percent in those games.
In nearly every statistical metric, 6-foot-5 forward Shakira Austin, a Maryland transfer, is Mississippi's leader. She averages 17.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.8 blocks per game, leading or tied for the team lead in all but rebounding, while shooting 53.2 percent from the field. Georgia transfer Donetta Johnson (13.1 points, three assists) is a good facilitator from the off-guard spot next to point guard Mimi Reed, who averages 5.3 assists per game.
Madison Scott, an immediate impact player as a 5-star freshman, has missed the last three games for Mississippi due to COVID protocols but is expected to play today, according to the Oxford Eagle. Scott has been named conference freshman of the week twice already, averaging 12.2 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting 62.8 percent from the field.
Today's game presents an interesting challenge for the Tigers, who enter today's game as the SEC's leader in field goal percentage (51.8 percent). Missouri is third in field goal percent in conference-only games (45.4) despite an 0-2 conference mark. One reason for those losses is the Tigers' SEC opponents are also shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 18-of-47 (38.3 percent) from 3-point range, the second-worst defensive mark in the league, while Missouri has struggled to find its 3-point shot early, likely because of all the schedule disruptions, converting 10-of-39 (25.6 percent, 11th in the conference).
The Tigers nearly upset Arkansas on the road despite 19 turnovers and a 7-of-24 performance from behind the arc by attacking the rim and getting out in transition when possible. The presence of Austin inside could make things a little more challenging there for the Tigers, who will rely on the inside presence of LaDazhia Williams, but cleaning up turnovers should be a priority for Missouri.