Women's Basketball Scouting Report: Missouri
Sunday's loss to South Carolina was painful, and it will likely deny the Commodores a shot at the SEC regular-season championship, but that four-point setback against the Gamecocks still represented an encouraging performance in many ways. Vanderbilt stood its ground in a slugfest, the ugly kind of game that an offense-first team doesn't generally like to play. Whenever South Carolina carved out a six-point lead, Vanderbilt didn't flinch, creating a 40-minute white-knuckler that wasn't in doubt until the final 15 seconds. Vanderbilt's low-post defense against South Carolina was much better than in the previous meeting between the two teams. The Dores gave as well as they got, a reality that coach Melanie Balcomb can use to bolster her team's confidence as this season continues.
What ultimately felled Vanderbilt on Sunday was not just the obvious (no player other than Christina Foggie scoring in double figures), but the fact that this team's low-post players are learning how to handle the cauldron of SEC basketball. Marqu'es Webb wasn't able to stop the step-through move by South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell that led to the biggest basket of the game. Moments later, Rayte'a Long locked her eyes on the right side of the floor, looking for Foggie, when teammate Jasmine Jenkins was open on the left wing. Long's errant pass led to another basket by Mitchell and a four-point cushion for the Gamecocks.
Webb and Long are underclassmen. They received a baptism by fire on Sunday, as all underclassmen must in college sports, not just basketball. This is nothing more than a natural stage in their evolution as players and competitors. Now comes the true challenge for them in their VU careers: Will they use that painful final minute against South Carolina as a springboard, a moment that will make them a lot better, or will they linger on those plays and lose belief? They should be heartened by the effort they put forth throughout Sunday's game, but there's no guarantee that any player will automatically turn a heartbreaking moment into a positive one. Not just for tonight against Missouri, but throughout the coming weeks, Balcomb must use's the South Carolina loss as a chance to get her team into the right mindset, one that will pay off in March.
The Tigers have the look of a team that's a year or two away from becoming a tournament-level squad. Missouri is still young, but head coach Robin Pingeton is cultivating players whose skill sets extend into all facets of competition. The nuance, though, is that these skill sets are different, to the extent that Mizzou isn't yet ready to overwhelm opponents in any one way or with any unified approach. The Tigers are a team of specialists in different silos; for every strength in each individual player on this roster, there's a noticeable weakness, which leaves Pingeton with an incomplete team in the present moment.
There probably isn't enough time for the Tigers to turn the corner this season and make the Dance floor, but one can envision a scenario in which this program's formula falls into place in 2015 or 2016. Players on this year's Mizzou crew have their own well-defined roles, but the cost of this reality is that the Tigers don't have proven third or fourth scoring options. Moreover, the Tigers have a few excellent defenders, but not all five players on the floor are able to operate as one seamless unit. Getting players to develop their skills against high-caliber SEC opposition will simply take a little time. Once that process of player development runs its course, though, this could be a very good team.
Forward – Bri Kulas – Senior, 6-1; 2013-14: 18.8 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game, 2.1 assists per game
After seeing South Carolina control the paint this past Sunday, Vanderbilt has to be ready to contain Kulas tonight. In particular, the Commodores will have to limit Kulas's ability to accumulate second-chance points off putbacks. Missouri might not be a complete team, but there's no easier (non-dunk) way to get a basket than to clean up a miss and flip in a two-footer off the window. If the Dores are to prevent the Tigers from getting easy baskets, tending to Kulas on the boards is a top priority; keeping her from getting to the rim is a related goal.
Forward/Guard – Jordan Frericks – Freshman, 6-1; 2013-14: 8.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.6 steals per game, 1.6 blocked shots per game
Missouri is an imbalanced team in that it gets its scoring from only two primary sources, without a strong third option. However, the Tigers have the makings of a formidable team in due time (albeit not this season – their main rotation is comprised mostly of underclassmen) because they have two young players who own diverse skill sets. Frericks is one of them. She's the best rebounder on the team – more than Kulas, a senior – and she makes an imprint on game nights as a combo defender. She's adept as both a pickpocket and a shot blocker, something you rarely see in any player. Usually, you'll see one characteristic or the other in a defender, but Frericks, as a freshman, brings both qualities to the table. Vanderbilt's offense was blitzed by South Carolina's relentless, extended pressure this past Sunday. The Dores have to find answers for Frericks when they run their halfcourt sets.
Guard – Morgan Eye – Junior, 5-9; 2013-14: 12.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.2 assists per game
Eye is – well – a dead-eye from three-point range, hitting 44.7 percent of her triples... and yes, she's a volume shooter. She averages over seven three-point attempts per game. Vanderbilt has lagged behind most of the SEC and the nation in terms of field goal percentage defense; this is a team whose foremost strength is its own shooting accuracy. VU will have to get better at defending formidable shooters, so Eye will give the Dores a significant test in this game.
Guard – Lianna Doty – Sophomore, 5-7; 2013-14: 6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.9 apg, 1.8 steals per game
Frericks is one of the two jack-of-all-trades contributors on this team, a building block for the program in the coming years. Doty is the other. She's the team's best facilitator and distributor by a large margin. She also helps out on the glass and is a strong perimeter defender. Missouri is poised to improve in the coming seasons thanks to Doty and Frericks. Vanderbilt's main task relative to Frericks will be to clog passing lanes so that she can't set up her teammates for high-percentage shots.
Guard – Maddie Stock – Sophomore, 6-0; 2013-14: 7.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg
Stock, along with Kulas and Eye, hits at least 84 percent of her foul shots. If Vanderbilt is to defend without fouling, it's important to keep Stock off the charity stripe. If it can do that, Stock has not yet developed her game to the point where she's likely to burn the Commodores from three-point range or any other (live-ball, non-free throw-based) spot on the floor.
Missouri truly has reserves in Stock. Guard Morgan Stock is Maddie's identical twin. She averages 5 points per game. Forward Kayla McDowell logs more minutes than any other bench player for Mizzou and averages 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. Guards Lindsey Cunningham and Bree Fowler also get at least 10 minutes per game.
Keys to the Game
1) Rediscover fluid offense, getting everyone involved. It really did seem that the week-long break disrupted this team's level of continuity on offense. Vanderbilt must regain a rhythm on offense, with multiple players feeling comfortable as shooters and seeing the ball go through the basket in the first seven to eight minutes of tonight's contest. A steady start – with at least three players contributing equally to the cause – should settle this team and give it the foundation for a road win.
2) Clamp down on Kulas. A scorer-rebounder is the very kind of player that can give – and has given – VU problems this season. This is a good challenge for the Dores' defense in Columbia, Mo.
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