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MU women's basketball may turn to the 3-pointer more often

MU women's basketball may turn to the 3-pointer more often

September 10th, 2018 by Colin O'Brien in Mizzou Sports
Missouri guard Sophie Cunningham drives to the basket against Florida Gulf Coast guard Erica Nelson during last season's first-round game in the Women's NCAA Tournament in Stanford, Calif.

Missouri guard Sophie Cunningham drives to the basket...

Photo by Associated Press /Fulton Sun.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — When Missouri lost 80-70 to Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the Women's NCAA Tournament in March, the Tigers got an up-close look at the style of offense they may adopt this season to better fit their personnel.

Jordan Frericks, one of the most accomplished bigs in program history, graduated in the spring and this week signed a professional contract with Herner Turn Club in Herne, Germany, close to the border with the Netherlands and Belgium. Cierra Porter medically retired during the summer.

That leaves four forwards on Missouri's roster, two of whom are freshmen, and redshirt junior Hannah Schuchts is not a traditional back-to-the-basket big. Sophie Cunningham and Amber Smith both have the size and skill-set to take smaller guards into the post, but this year's roster likely means a change for coach Robin Pingeton from her preferred three in, two out motion offense to something more similar to the four-out offense FGCU used to knock off the Tigers.

"It puts us in a position that we're going to play a little bit different than we have," Pingeton said Thursday. "But honestly, I think it's going to be a fun style for us. The teams that we struggled the most with, I think we're going to look a little more like those teams in just our ability to spread people out."

If Missouri is going to look more like FGCU, that means shooting more 3-pointers and at a higher percentage.

There's good news there: The Tigers' program record for 3-point attempts in a season (782), made (292) and best 3-point percentage (37.3 percent) all came under Pingeton's tenure, during the 2013-14 season. Putting up 3s is well within her offensive wheelhouse as a coach, but the challenge will be creating the space to do so with a guard-heavy lineup.

"FGCU had girls that were shooting anywhere from like 35 to like 41 percent from the three," redshirt senior Lauren Aldridge said. "So that's something that we have to shore up on as a team. I've got to get extra shots up, I've got to get in the gym more, because for us to be able to really expand the court or to spread it out, we're going to have to be able to knock down open shots, and that's what FGCU did a great job of. We'll get there.

"We know the work that we have to put in to get done the things we want to get done, and so if that's taking an extra load of 1,000 shots a week on your shoulders, then I think our team is extremely willing to take that responsibility. I know Sophie and I definitely have, and a bunch of other girls on the team. So it's not necessarily a huge burden, it's just a mindset of, 'Championships are hard, winning is hard, so what are we going to do to get there?'"

Pingeton mentioned things she wants the offense to more heavily incorporate includes dribble-drives while continuing the off-ball movement that is a foundational element to her teams. Schuchts' range from three, the one-on-one skill of Cunningham and Amber Smith and the shooting and passing of Aldridge and Jordan Chavis all complement a more spread-out attack and a transition toward positionless basketball.

That means Cunningham, who has played her time on offense at Missouri as a 2 through 4, could feature as a 5 or a 1, though she's been empowered for most of her career to attack whatever defensive weakness she sees. In the early goings of developing an offensive shift, that has been extended to the rest of the team.

"We've been playing 5-on-5 a lot and (Pingeton) really wants to let us go, not give us a lot of rules and see what we naturally do," Schuchts said. "But we start individuals this week and so we started putting in some transition stuff. We're slowly building upon it, but she's really giving us a lot of freedom, just to get a feel for what our team looks like."

The team will also have redshirt freshman Haley Troup, a preseason transfer from South Carolina a year ago, available from the jump. Although she hasn't yet been able to show it during games, Troup is a sharpshooter and was one of the leaders of Missouri's scout team a season ago when she wasn't eligible to compete.

"She can shoot the ball like I've never seen," Cunningham said. "She's a really good passer, very good basketball IQ, so it's really fun to play with her and her shot's unbelievable."

The Tigers also have players who got good minutes last year in Elle Brown, Nadia Green and Jordan Roundtree to rotate in at guard. True freshmen Akira Levy, Grace Berg and Brittany Garner will also have a chance to contribute, although Garner was a late addition to the class because of her school calendar and is working back from a minor shoulder injury.

As Missouri looks to expand on what it can do offensively, Pingeton's circle is also expanding.

The death of her father during the offseason a year ago pulled her attention away from filling the vacant assistant coaching position during the year, but Chris Bracey, the brother of Ashleen Bracey who has been on staff since the 2016-17 season, was added this summer.

Pingeton also added graduate student managers Katie Frerking, who played at Auburn and professionally overseas, and Devin Perez, who was on Ottawa (Kan.) University's men's team from 2015-17.

"I don't know that I've ever had somebody that hasn't been a former player or on a scout team of mine," Pingeton said of the graduate assistants. "So it's definitely a different look, and I've been really blessed with all our GAs in the past. But I'm really excited about having two people that can bring in outside experiences into our program and that think a little bit different, that come from a different system or different style. I think Katie and Devin are going to be great."