In the beginning, they stood.
The Missouri fans, the Missouri players and most of the 5,000-plus in attendance – they stood. They stood for the opening tip. They stood in the early moments of the game. They rose to their feet after big Missouri baskets.
This was Tennessee, after all. Winners of eight national championships, owners of 22 Final Four appearances and 37 WNBA players.
Missouri looked to improve its own stat: beating Tennessee at home for the second straight year.
But the Tigers lost.
In a game in which only four Mizzou players scored, Missouri (16-11, 5-9 SEC) fell to Tennessee (22-5, 11-3) in Mizzou Arena Sunday, 56-50.
“We make it interesting,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said of her team’s win. “We like to make it interesting.”
The Volunteers also like to make it aggressive. From the opening tip, Tennessee applied a trapping press.
Tennessee made the first two baskets. Senior guard Meighan Simmons splashed two treys with hands in her face, giving the Volunteers a 6-0 lead just over a minute into the game.
But then the two teams went almost equally cold. Missouri crashed down on Tennessee’s post players inside, double-teaming them and forcing some of Tennessee’s ten first-half turnovers. The strategy took some getting used to, Tennessee sophomore forward Bashaara Graves said.
“It might look like we were open for two seconds,” Graves said, “and the guards would pass it in, and they’d collapse on us.”
The Tigers, who average over 9 three-point makes a game, missed their first nine from beyond the arc until freshman forward Kayla McDowell sank a trey almost ten minutes into the game.
Morgan Eye, Mizzou’s all-time leader in three-pointers made, was 1-5 from deep in the first half. She finished 4-12 on three-pointers, with 15 points. The struggles weren’t caused by a lack of opportunities, Eye said.
“I feel like I just got so many good looks,” Eye said.
Despite Missouri’s woes, neither team shot better than 36 percent in the first half and the Tigers trailed 25-22 going into the break.
Tennessee opened the second half on a run, eventually jumping out to a 16-point lead midway through the half. But the Tigers came within three with just over a minute to go.
“Tennessee is awfully good,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “They’ve got a roster of high school All-Americans. I thought our kids competed. They didn’t throw in the towel, they didn’t quit.”
Down 50-47 and coming out of a timeout, Missouri got two open looks from three with under a minute left. Eye and freshman guard Sierra Michaelis, who played in the starting lineup for the third straight game, both missed their looks from deep. The Tigers never got that close to the Volunteers again.
“I thought we had good looks,” Pingeton said of the possession. “I thought we had the kids shooting the ball that we want shooting the ball.”
On the night, only four Missouri players scored: Eye, Michaelis, McDowell and senior forward Bri Kulas, who led the team with 22 points on 9-25 shooting.
Despite their struggles from deep, Missouri never stopped launching threes. The Tigers were 7-32 from beyond the arc.
“They’ve got the greenlight to shoot those shots,” Pingeton said. “We’re not going to reel them in too much, but we continue to challenge them every time out. Just 'cause you’re open doesn’t mean it’s a good look. Make sure you’re in rhythm. Pass up that good look for a great look.”
Simmons, who lead the Volunteers with 20 points, wasn’t surprised by Missouri’s commitment to the three-point shot.
“With the shooters they have out there, of course, why wouldn't you have an offense that works around those shooters?” Simmons said
And though the Volunteers’ goal was to hold Mizzou to four made three-pointers, seven would do. The Tigers could’ve gotten hot at any moment, Simmons said.
Pingeton said the Tigers’ moments of hot offense “never got contagious.” She thought Missouri could’ve been more aggressive offensively. The Tigers shot just six free throws, all in the second half.
The coach was satisfied with her team’s defense, though.
“If you would’ve told us we were going to hold them to 56 points going into this game, I would’ve liked my chances,” Pingeton said.
The Tigers now shift their attention to a home matchup against the SEC’s last place team, Ole Miss. Mizzou beat the Rebels in Oxford, Miss., earlier this year.