Story by Sam Richmond
Photos by Samuel Quintela
Senior Bri Kulas (13) drives past Isabelle Harrison (20) for a layup. Kulas had 22 points and six rebounds in the loss to Tennessee.
Hoping for a repeat of last year’s upset victory against Tennessee, the Missouri women’s basketball team played the Volunteers closely in the first 20 minutes, entering the break down 25-22.
But Tennessee’s 18-5 run to open the second half, which pushed the Volunteers lead to 16, proved to be too much for the Tigers to overcome as they fell 56-50 Sunday at Mizzou Arena.
“We knew we had to come out and hit them and not give them much hope,” Tennessee guard Andraya Carter said. “That 16-point lead was really good for us.”
The Tigers fought back and made a run late to push the Volunteers. Morgan Eye and Sierra Michaelis each had a chance at a game tying 3-pointer with less than a minute remaining, but neither shot fell.
“I thought we had good looks,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said of the two shots. “I thought we had the kids shooting the ball that we wanted shooting the ball.”
Missed 3-point shots were the story of the game for the Tigers. Missouri, usually a potent 3-point shooting team (37.1 percent), made just seven of 32 (21.9 percent) outside attempts against Tennessee.
The Tigers’ top 3-point shooters, Eye (15 points) and Bri Kulas (22 points), shot just 4-12 and 2-10 from beyond the arc, respectively.
“We wouldn’t trade any of our looks tonight; they were just a little short and barely off,” Eye said.
While the Tigers struggled offensively on Sunday, Missouri was satisfied in holding the Volunteers to 23.5 points below their scoring average.
“If you would have told us ‘we’re going to hold them to 56 points’ heading into this game, I would have liked my chances,” Pingeton said.
Pingeton’s plan was for the Tigers to run a zone defense, but extensive pre-game film study of the Volunteers led to Missouri instead playing man-to-man defense.
“We didn’t want to allow them to have second- and third-shot opportunities because of mismatch or rotations in our zone defense,” she said. “ I liked our game plan. I thought defensively we were spot on.”
Stout as the Tigers were on the defensive side of the ball, they couldn’t contain the Vols’ Meighan Simmons (20 points), who has now scored at least 20 points in seven of her last 10 games.
“Simmons is one heck of a player,” Pingeton said. “ She’s so explosive, so quick. You’re not going to shut her down. She’s going to get her points.”
The loss gives the Tigers a record of 16-11 (5-9 in the Southeastern Confernce) with just two games remaining before the SEC tournament, which starts March 5 in Duluth Ga..
Although Eye admitted the defeat was disappointing, she said the team is still optimistic for what is ahead.
“We know we still have a great opportunity to do something great this season,” she said.
Missouri’s next game is Senior Night against Ole Miss on Thursday, Feb. 27. It will mark the last home game for Kulas and Tania Jackson.
Against a background of Tiger and Volunteer fans, Missouri coach Robin Pingeton yells to her offense in the second half. The 5,017 fans at Mizzou Arena marked the seventh best attendance in the history of the Missouri women’s basketball program.
Missouri guard Sierra Michaelis (24) prepares to shoot a 3-pointer over Tennessee defender Meighan Simmons (10). Michaelis has moved up to a starting position for the Tigers and had seven rebounds and four points.
Missouri guard Lianna Doty (1) runs towards the basket against Tennessee defender Cierra Burdick (11). Doty had four assists in the game, but turned the ball over three times.
Missouri players Maddie Stock, left, Bree Fowler, center, and Morgan Stock, link their arms while watching the offense in the last minutes of the loss to Tennessee Sunday. Photo by Samuel Quintela.