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Friday, January 20, 2017

Women’s basketball comes up short in a pair of tight SEC losses

Mizzou now holds a 1-2 record in Southeastern Conference play this season.

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Senior guard Lindsey Cunningham, 11, blows by her defender to get to the basket in the first half.

Emil Lippe /Senior Staff Photographer

Jan. 9, 2017

Being blown out by a tough opponent in a basketball game isn’t fun. Losing within only two points in a winnable game is even worse.

Missouri women’s basketball suffered the latter twice in consecutive games this past week, falling to the Kentucky Wildcats 64-62 Thursday and to the Alabama Crimson Tide 59-58 Sunday. The Tigers have now lost the last two of their three Southeastern Conference games thus far.

Against Kentucky, Mizzou had a strong start in the first quarter, gaining a seven-point lead. The momentum reversed in the second quarter, with the Wildcats draining six three-pointers to surge to a double-digit lead. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Mizzou started to claw back, buoyed by senior guard Sierra Michaelis’s 18 points. Mizzou also forced critical back-to-back turnovers, but Kentucky ultimately prevailed.

Mizzou opened the game against Alabama strong as well, surging to a 11-2 lead in the first 5:32 of play. Much of the lead was due to strong defense resulting in turnovers and to sophomore guard Sophie Cunningham’s dominating 6-of-10 shooting. Alabama, however, fought back to tie the game at halftime. The second half remained tight, but Mizzou had a small lead of two points nearing the game’s end. Alabama pulled ahead on a clutch game-winning trey from junior Quanetria Bolton.

Some important things to note from the two losses:

Outrebounded

Alabama has emerged as one of the more promising teams in the nation this season with a 13-2 record prior to Sunday. Notably, they are ranked eighth in the country in rebounds per game, topping the SEC with an average 46.13 rebounds per game.

Not surprisingly, Alabama outrebounded Mizzou, nearing its rebounding average with 44 rebounds. Rebounds on the defensive end were even between the two teams, but the Crimson Tide’s 19 offensive rebounds completely outdid Mizzou’s five. 21 second-chance points were made off of those 19 rebounds.

Mizzou’s current national rank of 49th in rebounding will not bode well against future SEC opponents like Texas A&M and Arkansas, ranked 13th and 32nd, respectively. Alabama is also included in that list, as the Tigers will play its final regular season game against the Crimson Tide once again. By then, Mizzou needs to improve its rebounding.

Shooting Game Gets Harder

Sophie Cunningham had a great game against Alabama with a season-high 24 points.

For the rest of the team, that wasn’t the case. Even typically productive players like Michaelis (2-10) and sophomore Cierra Porter (3-11) had low shooting percentages.

Indeed, with SEC opponents being tougher, the possibility of more than two Tigers scoring double digits — a relatively common occurrence before SEC play — has suddenly become slim. However, as the last two games showed, that possibility may make or break Mizzou’s chances of winning a really tight game.

In both games, the Tigers stepped up late, but not early enough to overcome the opponent. Against Kentucky, shooting percentages and productivity among players with 14+ minutes were disturbingly low in the first half, but improved in the next. Against Alabama, Cunningham dominated the scoreboard throughout the game, but everybody else barely scored until late in the fourth quarter.

With only three SEC games under Mizzou’s belt, it may be too early to judge whether Mizzou’s recent run of poor shooting is a result of adapting to SEC play or a simple need for improvement. However, it’s only going to get tougher as the SEC season advances.

Mizzou Can Compete

Though losing a game by a few points can be emotionally disappointing, Mizzou’s SEC record of one win and two tight loses offers hope. The past SEC games have showed that Mizzou can match up with SEC opponents even with its current flaws. A tweaking here and there may allow the Tigers in the future to convert close games into big wins.

Next up: The Tigers will play Louisiana State University on Jan. 12 in Baton Rouge for their fourth SEC game this season. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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