Written by Callum McAndrew Special for Post-Dispatch
The Missouri women’s basketball coach and number one guard, respectively, expected to see the Tigers name being called by the selection committee to the NCAA Championship that day, but instead, they were relegated to the WNIT pier. After losing overtime to Drake later, the 2021-22 season ended.
This disdain, Hansen said, was devastating. Bington said she still remembers that disappointing day in March from time to time to motivate her during training.
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Not that her players needed help with remembering.
“Learning from the whole experience, I think we packaged it,” Hansen said. “Reminding each other how I felt, and this year, we don’t want to be in a situation where we are in the bubble, we may, and we may not. Our goals are much higher.”
Those goals: the top four in the SEC Championship; Qualified for Sweet 16 of the National Championship.
These are lofty ambitions for a team that ended the tie in eighth place in the conference (7-9) and narrowly short of the championship berth after the 18-13 season. These goals will not come without some challenges, some old and some new.
First and foremost, not every member of last season’s squad is there to avenge the championship insult. star guard Ega BlackwellWho sat several games while suspended from the program last season, moved to Baylor. Ladzia Williams, 6-foot-4 front, left for LSU. Freshmen Kia Doroh, Skyla Travis and Izzy Higginbottom have all moved on, too.
Despite the turmoil, Hansen’s first mention of the group’s identity is the “connection,” praising the team’s interaction off Earth, which she believes translated into the chemistry in it.
This is music in my coach’s ears.
“The really cool part about it is that it’s so organic, I think that’s when there’s real value to it,” Bington said. “When that culture is right and that chemistry is right and we have the right people on the (team) bus, we have been able to do some special things. I think that is the case with this team.”
And where going out with the old doesn’t seem to derail the tigers, being indoors with the new may have strengthened them.
Pingeton believes that the team is “going deeper than it has in the past,” and that from returning to true freshmen to transitional alumni, players are beginning to understand and embrace their roles.
The Missouri class of 2023 was highlighted by Rock Bridge guard Averi Kroenke, a Columbia producer who scored over 1,000 career points for Rock Bridge High School.
Then there’s Ashton Judd, a shooter from West Plains, Missouri, who led her team to a Class 5 state title in her first season — a year averaging 26.1 points and 11.5 rebounds.
And Bington may have traded Blackwell’s double-double machine for another – Notre Dame transfer Catelyn Gilbert, who once scored 13 games in a row with at least 10 points and plates.
There is still a solid core of returnees, too. Hansen, Hayley Frank, Mama Dembele and Haley Troup averaged over 28 minutes per game on the field last season. Frank led the team with 15.1 points per game, including 47.3% from 3 shots. Troup and Hansen averaged 8.6 and 11.1 points per game, respectively, and Dembele’s 3.6 passes per game was good for a tenth in the conference.
First test of the new MU core: Monday’s non-home road trip to Missouri (7 p.m., ESPN+), which beat Missouri at Columbia last season. Next, there’s a trip to Nassau, Bahamas, to take on Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, and another road chain in Tempe, Arizona, to play UMass and Arizona State. The remainder of the 13-game uncontested roster for the Tigers will take place at the Mizzou Arena, including Braggin’ Right’s game against Illinois on December 18 to end it.
And then, starting December 29 against Kentucky, there’s the Securities and Exchange Commission, which Bington called “the gauntlet.”
She’s not wrong – it features three seeded teams, including the top seed in South Carolina on January 15, and five teams receiving votes in a pre-season poll.
For all the tough memories that March 13th brings, there’s another day, another event from last season, and cause for hope as a tough timeline.
December 30, 2021, at Mizzou Arena against Gamecocks #1.
Hansen has seen her game-winning departure from overtime bother a lot during the holiday season — “too many times,” as she puts it.
However, she totally feels like she’s having it all over again.
Pack that distress we had and that closeness, and then carry it with us,” Hansen said. “But at the same time, we’re picking up on the us versus everybody mentality, just seeing that we can win more big games like this and that’s not going to be the only game we’ll ever think about – we want more.
“I think just attacking this season knowing that if we stick together, those are the kinds of things we can do.”