For a squad ranked No. 16 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, the Missouri women's basketball team didn't exactly look the part during its two exhibition games over the past week.
Yes, the Tigers won both contests by double digits, but each of them was closer than the final scores displayed. After entering halftime against Washburn trailing 29-28 on Thursday, MU needed a 46-point second-half performance to pull away comfortably.
Some of the struggles are simply the result of a team trying to iron out early-season kinks, and others are due to changes in style and personnel.
Coach Robin Pingeton has noted the Tigers will be playing with a faster tempo on offense this season. On Friday, she reiterated the concern she voiced Thursday after the exhibition against Washburn: while the team has shown strong ball security during practice, that hasn't translated to the exhibitions. MU averaged 18 turnovers in the two games.
"One thing that weve done an awfully good job of in practice that hasnt carried over to games is our ability to take care of the ball," Pingeton said Friday. "I dont know if it's just the game intensity, but we get sped up a little bit. Were trying to play too fast once we settle into the half court."
Another issue to which the Tigers must adjust is their lack of size. The team is full of guards, with very few forwards just four Tigers stand over 6-foot which changes things for players such as senior Sophie Cunningham, who will play at the 4 and 5 positions at times this season.
"We've just got to start clicking and find our rhythm, which is really hard because honestly it's a whole new offense," Cunningham said. "It's kind of a whole new system. We don't have any bigs, clearly. Even I'm trying to figure it out still. But once we do, we're going to be really tough to guard."
Despite the preseason inconsistencies, Missouri is still confident ahead of Tuesday's season opener at Western Illinois. The Tigers' second-half surge Thursday is a big reason for that.
"It was quite a turnaround," Pingeton said. "I'm just proud of the resiliency. I feel like slowly but surely, we're learning. We talked a lot about the mindset we have to be in in the locker room at halftime, and what that looks like. That obviously was one area we saw we got better at. Now we have to stay consistent with it. But I was really proud of their effort in the second half."
Levy bringing the energy
Akira Levy displayed the kind of spark she can bring to the table when she gave a rendition of Alisha Keys' "If I Ain't Got You" during Mizzou Madness on Oct. 20, and the freshman point guard has only kept impressing since. Levy recorded 10 points, four steals and a block in 23 minutes of play off the bench in Thursdays exhibition, proving the value she can provide the Tigers.
Pingeton would not reveal a starting five for Tuesday's opener, but whether she's in the starting lineup or not, Levy figures to make an impact.
"Energy, I think, is just very, very important in a game like that," Levy said. "I see myself as a very energetic person. So I think I'm just always trying to have that energy and make people smile."
"I think all freshmen kind of have that extra little oomph," Cunningham added. "But she definitely has it. I still get pretty hyped, but I still kind of have to be like the mom on the team now. So I can't really act like she does all the time. But we definitely have a lot of fun together. I'm really excited to play with her."
Due to the Tigers' lack of size, Levy knows her role as a point guard will include going for rebounds. It's something Pingeton has stressed in the preseason, and all players will have to contribute to make up for the size disadvantage.
"Since we're a small team, one of our focuses is rebounding the ball," Levy said. "Because in the SEC and even with the teams we've been playing what they're going to do is crash the boards. So we focus on boxing out and going to get the boards even the guards, because our team is basically guards this year."
Redshirt junior Hannah Schuchts did not play in Thursday's exhibition against Washburn after turning her ankle last Monday, but Pingeton said there's "a really good shot" she'll play in Tuesday's game.
"It was pretty colorful and swollen. She's a tough kid. I know she's been coming in a lot for treatments. She's just trying to focus on getting that swelling down," Pingeton said.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.