Tale of two halves: second half offensive spark enough for Missouri women’s basketball in season-opening win

A 60-point second half is enough to help the Tigers secure its first win of the season, 96-78.

If you were to judge Missouri based solely on its first half performance, well, it may have looked as if they were in for a long season.

For the first 20 minutes against North Alabama, the Tigers couldn’t get anything going both offensively or defensively. Sloppy play, multiple missed layups and the hot hand of the Lions’ Jaila Roberts allowed the visitors to hang around and even take a three-point lead into halftime.

But a 15-1 run to start the second half provided all the spark Missouri needed to find its groove and pull away from North Alabama in a 96-78 season-opening win at Mizzou Arena.

“I don’t know that we ever scored 96 [points] last year,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “There’s a lot of offensive firepower here, we just have to clean a lot of things up.”

On Friday night, that firepower came from the Tigers’ star-studded sophomore backcourt. Both Hayley Frank and Aijha Blackwell finished the night with double-doubles and combined for 45 points and 21 rebounds.

But for as bright as those two looked, they couldn't overshadow an uninspiring first half performance. Missouri had more turnovers (7) than assists (3) as players struggled to adapt to one another’s movements.

“I think offensively we just were really stagnant and we weren’t moving the ball very well,” Pingeton said. “I think there was a lot of opportunities that every [player] could take advantage of a mismatch, but when you don’t swing the ball side to side to get the defense moving and make the home run play on the initial pass, it’s going to be really challenging.”

Defensively, the Tigers had no answer for Roberts, who scored 17 of the Lions’ first 22 points and finished the night with 34 points. Only two other Lions finished in double digits.

“I didn’t like our rotations defensively,” Pingeton said. “I didn’t think our communication was on point and they continued to put pressure on and play downhill a lot.”

But in many ways, Friday’s game proved to be a tale of two halves.

As the night wore on, Missouri finally began to take advantage of size mismatches all over the court. The Tigers scored just 22 points in the paint over the first 20 minutes, but had 34 more over the next 20. They out-rebounded the Lions 46-32 and finished with 25 second-chance points.

Redshirt junior LaDazhia Williams, who transferred to Missouri from South Carolina, played a large role in the rebound advantage. The forward scored 18 points on 8-12 shooting and hauled in four offensive rebounds.

“She’s going to be good,” Blackwell said. “You're going to get a show every night from Ladazhia for sure. She’s a beast down there and knows how to play.”

Despite struggling to click on offense for various stretches, the Tigers still managed to put up nearly 100 points. In its first game of the season, Missouri did what is expected of good programs: it found a way to convincingly win a game it struggled in.

Sure, it wasn’t always pretty. A slow start like it had on Friday could spell doom against one of the numerous top-15 teams it plays during its league schedule. But this is also a team that won nine games a season ago.

In its season opener, Missouri showed flashes of potential; now it can build off it starting on Sunday afternoon when it travels to St. Louis to take on the Saint Louis University Billikens at 2 p.m.

Edited by Caitlin Danborn | cdanborn@themaneater.com

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