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Missouri women's basketball beats Bradley in home opener, 83-38

Mizzou was up 20, but head coach Robin Pingeton felt there was another level her team could hit.

The Tigers went into halftime of Thursday night’s game against Bradley with a 37-17 lead. Pingeton stressed to her team the importance of coming out strong on the defensive end to open the second half. One of the Braves’ best shooters, sophomore guard Caroline Waite, had pulled up for five 3-pointers in the first half and canned two of them. Before the game, Missouri had planned to go over every screen against her, but that hadn’t been the case through the first two quarters.

The team made the necessary adjustments, holding Waite to just one shot from beyond the arc in the second half — a miss — and pulling away for a dominant 83-38 victory inside Mizzou Arena.

“I felt like we were a little bit louder, we were a little bit more aggressive, we got into passing lanes a little bit more,” Pingeton said. “And a lot of times, that defense creates your offense and, you know, that's when things go a bit easier instead of having to grind it out.”

The Tigers began the game stifling the Braves in the first quarter. Bradley hit a 3-pointer at the 8:46 mark of the first quarter, but wouldn’t score again for another seven and a half minutes.

In the meantime, Mizzou proceeded to go on an 11-0 run, fueled by junior center Jayla Kelly. The hosts repeatedly fed Kelly in the post and she cashed in with nine points.

“Just my teammates moving, getting open, Coach P's play calls (helped),” Kelly said. “You know, we were moving in that zone. And I mean, our movement is good, so we're able to break that down pretty well I think. My teammates just made good passes.”

Missouri ended the first quarter with a 19-6 advantage, but eased off the gas pedal a bit in the second quarter, allowing the Braves to score 11.

The Tigers followed it up with the biggest run of the night in the third quarter. Senior forward Hayley Frank picked off Bradley’s inbound pass and scored on an and-1 layup and free throw to start the period. The visitors got a layup to drop again but would end up going on another long scoring drought.

Mizzou began zipping the ball around the court, usually leading to a wide-open look at the basket. The team finished the night with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 22-10 — nine of the dimes came in the third quarter.

“This is something that (Pingeton) says every day, 'connectivity, connectivity,'” Kelly said. “It's really a point of emphasis for us. We struggle with it at times, whether we're not communicating well enough or, like, calling for the ball or something as simple as that. So just focusing on the little small details, I think that's helped our connectivity a lot.”

The Tigers’ lead ballooned to 66-28 by the end of the third. It allowed Pingeton to give extended minutes to some of her players coming off the bench, including freshmen guards Ashton Judd and Averi Kroenke. Judd finished as the team’s third-leading scorer with 12 points, Kroenke added three points and four rebounds and Mizzou finished off the 83-38 win.

Senior guard Lauren Hansen led Missouri with 17 points, followed by Kelly with 13. The Tigers will look to extend their winning streak on Sunday when they host Southeast Missouri State at 1 p.m.

“Like most early games, there's so many things that we've gotta work on and gotta get better with. But I did feel like we maintained our focus, regardless of the scoreboard, for 40 minutes, and I think that's a really challenging thing to do at times,” Pingeton said. “I love the fact that we're having a chance to look at different rotations and different lineups and getting some feet wet with our younger players. I think that's huge and that's only going to help us down the road.”

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