NCAA tournament preview: BYU – Missouri

Freshman Sophie Cunningham celebrates a shot earlier this season. She leads the Tigers in scoring with 13.5 points per game. (AP photo)

No. 7 BYU faces No. 10 Missouri in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Austin, TX, on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. MST.

After losing to San Francisco in the West Coast Conference finals, the Cougars are ready to get back on the court and participate in the program’s 12th and third-straight NCAA tournament.

“It’s hard to not get up for this. It’s what you prepare for all summer long, all season. You run sprints  for it, lift weights, everything. All the sacrifice is for now. There shouldn’t be any distractions. We should be all in,” Senior Lexi Eaton Rydalch said.

NCAA experience: BYU (26-6, 16-2 WCC) has a 5-11 record in the NCAA tournament and made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 2002 and 2014.

Missouri (21-9, 8-8 SEC) enters the tournament for the first time since 2006 and 10th time in program history. Missouri is 4-9 in the NCAA and made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 2001.

Previous meetings: The Cougars have yet to win a game against the Tigers. Missouri beat BYU 72-66 in Columbia in the most recent match-up on Dec. 6, 1997. The Tigers lead the series 5-0 and hold a 3-0 advantage when playing on a neutral court.

Season highlights: BYU won its first outright WCC regular season title with a home victory over San Diego. The Cougars’ 16-game win streak was the longest in program history. BYU averages 69.7 points per game and 42.5 percent from the field.

Missouri started the season with a 13-game winning streak for the first time in program history before losing to nationally ranked no. 12 Tennessee. The Tigers lost to Auburn in the SEC tournament. Missouri averages 68.1 points and makes 43.4 percent of field goals.

Players to watch: Lexi Eaton Rydalch is ranked fifth in the nation with an average 24.3 points per game. Kalani Purcell holds second place in the nation in defensive rebounds and fifth in rebounds per game. She averages 11.8 points and 12.7 rebounds.

Sophie Cunningham leads the Tigers with 13.5 points and is ranked seventh in field goal percentage among NCAA freshman. Jordan Frericks adds 12.1 points and 7.8 rebounds to Missouri’s offensive drive.

What a win means: With a victory over Missouri, BYU will advance to the second round to play the winner of No. 2 Texas and No. 15 Alabama State on Monday, March 21.

What senior Kylie Maeda has to say: “We’re excited to face someone different, from a different conference… That’s what it comes down to in this tournament. Everyone’s good players, everyone’s talented. So if we can step it up on defense and hold opponents to less points I think that will help us,” Maeda said.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN2/ESPN3 and BYUradio.

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