The Missouri State Lady Bears, led by Alexa Willard, didn’t receive any AP poll votes in the preseason, but ended up climbing as high as No. 19 under MVC Coach of the Year Amaka Agugua-Hamilton.
The NCAA isn’t releasing a bracket this year but at Swish Appeal we’ve decided to make one anyway, based on this formula created by our Zack Ward. Here’s a recap of one of the 64 teams who made the cut according to the Swish Appeal bracket:
No. 25 Missouri State Lady Bears
The Lady Bears took a significant hit before the 2019-20 season even started when longtime head coach Kellie Harper decided to leave the program and take the open head coaching position at the University of Tennessee. Ultimately, however, Missouri State kept on rolling, finishing at No. 23 in the AP Poll.
Under new head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, Missouri State duplicated last year’s 16-2 record in the MVC and defeated the two teams closest to them in the standings — the Drake Bulldogs and the Bradley Braves — twice.
Add to that a win over the No. 17 South Dakota Coyotes on Nov. 25 and you can see why the Lady Bears earned a seven-seed in our bracket. Last year they reached the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in program history, and a similar run this year certainly would have been possible if the COVID-19 pandemic didn't cancel the MVC and NCAA Tournaments. The Lady Bears earned an automatic bid due to their regular-season title.
Lady Bears win!— MSU Lady Bears (@MSULadyBears) March 7, 2020
MSU tops Loyola 72-61 on Senior Day to finish the regular season unbeaten at home for the first time since 2004.
Thank you fans for your great support so far and helping make the #MSUBears one of 10 remaining Division I teams with a perfect home record! pic.twitter.com/gcsrdxiMk1
Led by senior guard Alexa Willard in the scoring department, sophomore forward Jasmine Franklin in rebounding and junior guard Brice Calip in distributing, Missouri State cruised to a 26-4 overall record this season. Two bad losses came to conference foes Southern Illinois (Jan. 17) and Illinois State (Feb. 27), but the Lady Bears’ other two losses — to the No. 14 Oregon State Beavers (Nov. 17) and the No. 13 Gonzaga Bulldogs (Dec. 20) — were understandable.
Missouri State had a handful of sharpshooters this year, most notably junior guard Elle Ruffridge, who shot 43.7 percent from beyond the arc with a team-high 45 makes. Willard was next in line, shooting 43 percent with 40 makes en route to 16.1 points per game. Meanwhile, sophomore guard Sydney Wilson, who averaged just 14.4 minutes per contest, shot the three-ball at a 45.5 percent clip with 15 makes.
Willard was named to the All-MVC First Team, as were Franklin (8.7 boards per game) and Calip (3.7 assists per game), with the latter earning a spot on the MVC All-Defense Team.
Last year, the Lady Bears won the MVC Tournament, but not the regular season. This year they won the regular season for the first time since 2012 and would have punched their ticket to the Big Dance for the 16th time.