Missouri State started its season 1-7, an inauspicious beginning for a team that will face No. 2 seed Stanford in Saturday’s Sweet Sixteen.
Missouri State’s two tournament wins show that they are a tough defensive team that can be difficult to handle on the offensive side of the court as well. The Lady Bears beat DePaul 89-78 by shooting a lights-out 52 percent for the game.
Against Iowa State, the shooting was not nearly as good, just 41 percent, but their ability to defend is what sealed the 69-60 win. While the Cyclones’ Bridget Carleton led all scorers with 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting, the rest of the Cyclones were just 11-of-43 from the field.
Missouri State is led by two players that can take over a game at any point. Senior Danielle Gitzen took a leap this year, especially in the 3-point shooting department. Last year, after being moved up to a full-time starter, Gitzen shot 27 three-point shots, making just seven. In her final season, she has attempted 75 shots from deep with 40 percent accuracy.
Junior Alexa Willard has scored 1,032 points as a three-year starter for the Lady Bears and has contributed 20 and 17 points in the Bears’ two tournament victories. Gitzen and Willard will be the main focus for Stanford on the defensive end.
Stanford will be Missouri State’s toughest test since its 70-67 loss to Gonzaga in December. After all, the Cardinal is a complete team who will challenge Missouri State inside and out.
Alanna Smith is averaging 19.8 points per contest to go with 8.7 rebounds. She is also one of four players for Stanford who shoot over 30 percent from beyond the arc. Missouri State will likely have to employ a strategy of allowing Smith to score but keep the rest of the team off the board.
As the only double-digit seed to advance, there will be a lot of fans rooting for Missouri State to advance to the Elite Eight. Their ability to contain the high-powered offense of Stanford will be the key to the game.
No. 2 Stanford Cardinal (30-4) vs No. 11 Missouri State Lady Bears (25-9)
When: Saturday, March 30, at 6 p.m. ET
Where: Wintrust Arena, Chicago, IL
How to watch: ESPN2