Shorthanded Mizzou women fall to Kentucky
For the second time in three games, Missouri women’s basketball’s best player, Aijha Blackwell, was inactive. She wasn’t the only one this time.
The outcome of this game is not really the story tonight. No, Missouri did not do itself any favors by losing by 15 at home to Kentucky, a fellow NCAA Tournament bubble team, 78-63. Yes, the Tigers will finish 7-9 in the SEC, at best.
But first and foremost, this team needs to get its off-the-court issues figured out.
In a game that could have greatly enhanced Missouri's postseason resume, four players were out — not because of injury, but because they couldn’t keep up with program standards and expectations.
When Blackwell was left out of Missouri’s lineup in the 74-49 loss at No. 21 Georgia on Feb. 17, Pingeton addressed her star’s absence in the postgame press conference.
“We have really high standards and expectations of our program,” Pingeton said. “If I didn’t love my players the way that I do, I wouldn’t hold her to that standard. But I love her. We’ve just gotta learn and grow in these kinds of situations.”
Blackwell returned off the bench against Mississippi State on Sunday and recorded her 19th double-double of the season with 16 points and 18 rebounds. Everything looked to be back to normal.
Blackwell was inactive once again against Kentucky, and this time the star junior guard was joined by LaDazhia Williams — who, as a senior, likely would’ve made her final appearance at Mizzou Arena — along with Kiya Dorroh and Skylah Travis.
Pingeton’s postgame remarks this time around were nearly identical to what she said regarding Blackwell a week prior. She said that the situations regarding some players were related, others unrelated.
“There’s gotta be an accountability piece to it,” Pingeton said
There is no timetable for the four players' return, meaning they could be available, or not, in the regular season finale at No. 15 Florida on Sunday.
It’s not a surprise that Pingeton has been purposefully vague in the specifics of which policies or standards were violated, but those specifics really don’t matter. Whatever it is, if Missouri has any hope of making a deep run in March, it has to get these issues ironed out in the coming days.
For a team that has worked so hard to overcome adversity all season — think back to the first game in conference play, in which a COVID-ridden Missouri team miraculously rallied to defeat No. 1 South Carolina in overtime without Blackwell — to drop out of the bracket would be a colossal collapse. Missouri couldn’t control its roster against the Gamecocks. Thursday was different.
Pingeton took a largely positive tone despite the 15-point loss. Her limited roster put up a fight, cutting an early 15-point deficit to one by the end of the third quarter. But with so many players unavailable, the team ran out of gas. Kentucky sealed the win with a 14-2 run in the fourth quarter.
“I’m still really confident,” Pingeton said. “I believe in this team. You want to be on a roll going into the SEC tournament for sure. But you look up and down in the standings, there’s probably only three or four teams that haven’t gone through stretches of three or four losses. And that’s just how good the league is.”
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