Missouri women’s basketball fends off Wichita State in final game before winter break

Sierra Michaelis’ career-high nine steals were critical in avoiding an upset loss against the Shockers.

Missouri senior guard Lindsey Cunningham, 11, high fives teammates and young Tiger fans alike as she is introduced in the starting lineup before Missouri's game against Wichita State at Mizzou Arena on Dec. 9.

Missouri women’s basketball was nearly shocked.

After struggling in the first half, the Tigers managed to beat the Wichita State Shockers 64-57 on Friday in their 30th consecutive nonconference home victory, leaving Mizzou’s unbeaten record against Wichita State intact.

The game was much closer than expected, but for head coach Robin Pingeton, the Tigers’ victory was special.

“Out of all my wins at Mizzou, this here is probably one that I’m most proud of,” Pingeton said.

Both teams came in disadvantaged. Star sophomore guard Sophie Cunningham sat out the game due to a back injury, leaving Mizzou’s small bench even smaller. Wichita State had greater depth, but its players lacked height compared to Missouri. The Shockers overcame their difference in height well, making up for it with speed and a new defensive strategy.

“We wanted to trap their guards,” Wichita State head coach Jody Adams-Birch said. “From what we’ve scouted, [we wanted to trap] them in random traps so that it brings them out of their set, bring the big out from the basket and make her run.”

By implementing a full-court press, Wichita State made Mizzou’s ball movement more static. More importantly, it kept sophomore forward Cierra Porter — a productive player under the basket — away from the paint and stuck at half court.

It proved to be very effective, giving Wichita State a 17-10 lead in the first quarter and keeping Porter to just two points in the first half. However, things turned around.

“I don’t think we did a very good job getting the ball inside or attacking the basket in the first half,” Pingeton said. “But I loved the resiliency that [we] showed in that second quarter. Our goal was to cut the lead to three or four in the half. We cut that down to one.”

Because of the full-court press, the game became a mental battle of sorts, and once Mizzou caught up at the half, the Tigers began to win that battle.

“Sometimes people press and we try to play too fast,” redshirt senior guard Lianna Doty said. “But you don’t let people rush you. You can be quick, you can attack opportunities, but it’s not about playing in a hurry. That’s what presses do. They make you hurry up.”

Doty credited the team huddles for constantly reminding the team to remain poised despite the pressure.

The poise translated to an 11-0 run in the beginning of the second half that gave Mizzou a solid lead. But Wichita State battled back in the final quarter, tying the score 50-50 with 5:19 left in the game.

The game was ultimately won on the strong play of several Tigers. Especially critical were the nine steals from senior guard Sierra Michaelis, the most by a Southeastern Conference player this season. Only four players in Division I have nine steals in a game.

Doty scored a team-high 15 points, followed up by Michaelis with 14 points and Porter with 13. Junior Rangie Bessard carried Wichita State with 19 points. Both teams shot 41 percent from the field.

Next up: The Tigers play University of Tennessee, Martin Dec. 17 at Mizzou Arena. Tipoff is at 11 a.m.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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