Height difference too much to overcome as Missouri women’s basketball falls to No. 21 Tennessee

The Volunteers outrebounded the Tigers 46-25, including 18 on the offensive end, and won 78-73 at Mizzou Arena.

When Missouri women’s basketball coach Robin Pingeton sat down at the podium and skimmed the box score following the Tigers’ 78-73 loss against No. 21 Tennessee, she could only let out a sigh and offer a “jesus criminy,” under her breath.

Her team took a 36-34 lead into halftime against the Volunteers. It entered the fourth quarter up 60-55. But tasked with another top-25 opponent at home, Missouri came up just short.

On Thursday night, it wasn't for lack of effort. The height disparity between the two teams proved to be too much for the Tigers to handle.

Its over-reliance on the three ball or stagnant offense down the stretch can be discussed, but Missouri lost the game primarily because Tennessee outrebounded it 46-25.

“We could have boxed them out more,” Missouri sophomore forward Aijah Blackwell said. “Rebounded better. But they’re a tall team and athletic, so we’ve got to give them credit for that.”

It’s hard to win any game when outrebounded by 20, let alone against the Volunteers, which rosters 11 players over six feet and seven over six-foot-two-inches. For comparison, Missouri has just four players over six-foot-two-inches.

Redshirt junior forward LaDazhia Williams, the Tigers’ tallest player at six-foot-four inches, played just ten minutes coming off an injury that forced her to miss her team’s recent win against Florida. Williams didn’t fully participate in practice all week, but she finished the night with six points against one of the tallest teams in the SEC.

“We need her for our depth,” Pingeton said. “That’s really important. She still says [her ankle is] sore, but I think we’ll just keep treating it and hopefully we can get over the hill with that sooner than later.”

Williams’ height and scoring ability are unmatched across Missouri’s roster. The forward averages 14 points and 4.4 rebounds a game; without her, its tallest player is six-foot-two senior forward Shannon Dufficy.

To win with that significant of a size disadvantage –– which the Tigers nearly did –– requires a team to do multiple other things well, such as score from the perimeter and exploit offensive mismatches.

“It kind of becomes a chess match,” Pingeton said. “To draw their bigs out and make them guard our screen action. To have a five-man out there that can pop and create some driving opportunities for us versus us having to guard their bigs inside.”

Missouri just couldn't force Tennessee into a checkmate. It allowed 38 points in the paint and gave up 18 offensive rebounds. With just under a minute left, Volunteer senior forward Rennia Davis pounded the final nail into the Tigers’ coffin with an offensive-rebound putback, which gave her team a 76-71 lead that it never relinquished.

Offensively, Missouri redshirt junior guard Haley Troup did all Pingeton could have asked for. She finished with a team-high 16 points, and 14 of them came in the first half as the Tigers found their offensive rhythm.

Troup’s ability to consistently knock down the midrange jumper allowed Missouri an offensive lifeline as the Volunteer's bigs swarmed the paint and contested every layup.

“It’s hard to finish around them,” Troup said. “So you have to go to the midrange off the ball screens… We knew the kind of defensive team they were, the length, and I thought we capitalized on it.”

Missouri played its previous game against Florida in a similar fashion, and proved it could stretch the floor to take advantage of offensive mismatches. But the Gators didn’t have the height and length that Tennessee did. And with 18 fewer points coming from beyond the arc, the Tigers just didn’t do enough to take advantage of the visitor’s slow-footed bigs.

In another game that came down to the wire, the Volunteers just had too much height –– and talent –– for Missouri to handle, helping them come away with a narrow victory.

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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