Missouri’s bench struggles in home loss to No. 24 Georgia

Lauren Hansen scored all six of the Tigers’ bench points in an 82-64 loss to the Bulldogs.

The ball swung from side to side and eventually ended up in the hands of Missouri guard Lauren Hansen. After a second to gather herself, she launched a three from the right corner that hit nothing but net. That shot gave the Tigers a 26-20 lead against No. 24 Georgia.

While routine, those three points stood out in the first half. Not just because they came within the flow of the offense; not because it helped the Tigers extend their lead against a top-25 team. No. It was because they were the Tigers’ only three points off the bench in the entire first half.

Missouri is 7-9 this season, but on paper it feels like it should have more than just three SEC wins. The Tigers have been in most games they’ve played in this season only to come short again and again in the final minute.

The Tigers’ usual starting lineup of Mama Dembele, Haley Troup, Hayley Frank, Aijha Blackwell and LaDazhia Williams is talented enough to give their team a significant boost, but finding those timely contributions off the bench is where coach Robin Pingeton’s team needs to improve. On Sunday, the absence of talented sophomore Blackwell because of a foot injury forced Pingeton to change the starting lineup, which caused Dickson to start alongside Dembele. With the Tigers’ usual scoring spark off the bench inserted into the starting lineup, they really needed a second scorer to step up.

After the team’s performance against Georgia, it’s clear that Pingeton is still attempting to solve a difficult puzzle.

“You know, I just don’t know,” Pingeton said. “Probably when I figure that out, that’s going to help, right?”

Bench contributions often tip the scale in a league with so much individual talent. So when those talented players check out, who will answer the call and provide a game-changing contribution?

Against South Carolina on Feb. 11, Missouri received 18 first-half points from the bench and went into halftime knotted at 36 with the Gamecocks. First-half contributions from Hansen (10 points) and Shug Dickson (8 points) helped tip the scales and keep the game close with some hot shooting early.

But on Sunday, Hansen needed to fill a large scoring void by herself and couldn’t find much of a rhythm against a stout Georgia defense. The sophomore’s three in the fourth quarter doubled the Tigers’ bench output and were the final bench points of the afternoon. For comparison, Georgia finished with 20 points off the bench and won by 18.

While the bench-scoring discrepancy stood out in the final box score, Pingeton narrowed down defense and energy as main contributors to the game being flipped on its head after her team raced to an early 19-6 lead.

“I think the thing I’m most frustrated with again is our defensive intensity,” Pingeton said. “I honestly felt like we let our offense kind of dictate our defensive intensity, and we all know that doesn’t usually play out very well.”

Frank, Williams and Troup finished with a combined 45 points, while the rest of the lineup contributed 19. The lack of bench scoring hurts, but three players finishing with 70% of Missouri's total output speaks to a larger issue of well-rounded scoring.

Dufficy received the second-most minutes off the bench with 14, but Pingeton primarily stuck with a six-woman rotation of the five starters and Hansen.

The senior has proven herself in the past –– both at Missouri and Utah State –– that she is capable of providing an offensive burst off the bench, especially from beyond the arc. However, she really struggled against the Bulldogs, who held the Australian scoreless.

With Dickson in the starting lineup, nobody outside of Hansen could generate offense on their own. Without many scoring options off the bench, the Tigers needed to rely on their starters more than usual. That, combined with seven third quarter turnovers, eventually sunk Missouri in the second half.

“They had 29 points off our turnovers, and, you know, that’s the game right there,” Pingeton said. “When you go against these teams, you have to make them play in the half court. When they get those transition looks from turnovers, it makes it very challenging.”

After a solid performance against South Carolina in which she had to fill in for Tigers’ bigs plagued by foul trouble, forward Micah Linthacum received some early minutes against Georgia. While she couldn’t make the most of them against the Bulldogs, it goes to show that Pingeton will reward those who make those unexpected contributions off the bench.

“We always tell our kids to stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready,” Pingeton said. “You never know when your number’s going to be called. I felt like her minutes in that South Carolina game, even though there weren’t a lot — she came in and was really steady for us, and I like what I saw.”

Missouri desperately needs more of that. It needs that one surprise player to step up and contribute each game, regardless of who it is.

Pingeton and the Tigers can point to a lack of defensive energy or the third-quarter turnovers as reasons that the game got away. But the lack of bench contribution sticks out like a sore thumb, and in any game, six total points stretched across four quarters will never cut it.

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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