A tale of two halves proves Missouri capable of being great if consistent

Missouri looked like two different teams in each half, as it converted 11 3s in the first half compared to just one in the second.

While there never can be a truly perfectly played basketball game, Missouri did its best to play a perfect first quarter on Sunday afternoon. No. 25 Missouri (17-5, 5-3) outscored Auburn (15-5 3-4) 23-2 in the first quarter on its way to a 74-65 win.

The Tigers came out on fire from behind the arc, shooting 11-of-20 from distance in the first half. Auburn played in a 3-2 zone to start the game, yet Missouri found the holes in that scheme and exploited them with the 3-point shot.

“I think that I was probably in shock at how bad we played in that first quarter,” Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “Definitely not an indication of our team.”

Senior Sophie Cunningham scored 21 of her 30 points before the break, the flame of Missouri’s offense. She made six 3s and scored or assisted on Missouri’s first 11 points. Its offense seemed to go primarily through her in the half.

“I play best when I’m feisty,” Cunningham said. “I had some feistiness to me today because I wanted to protect this program and what it means to me.”

While it was indeed an offensive outburst for Cunningham, it wasn’t all that shocking to the opposing Tiger coach.

“Nobody is surprised at Sophie, she’s a very good player,” Williams-Flournoy said. “Now I didn’t want her to have 21 [points] at the half, but it’s impressive how good she is.”

Even with that nearly perfect first quarter in the books, Missouri still had to play the rest of the game. The second quarter proved more of the same in terms of 3-point shooting. Auburn’s defense still tried to make its zone defense work, and Missouri kept exploiting it.

Missouri went to halftime with a 43-23 lead. It was a nice change of pace for Missouri, who had an abysmal offensive performance against No. 15 Kentucky on Thursday. Everything seemed to be going right for Missouri. It was relying on Cunningham and she was coming through. It was even leading the rebounding battle at the half 21-10.

The second half provided a different tale.

Missouri was outscored 42-31 in the half, and only scored 12 points in the final frame. It was held scoreless in the final four minutes of the third quarter.

Auburn scored at least 20 points in all but the first quarter.

“If you don’t score, you can’t set up the press,” Williams-Flournoy said. “We brought our back line up to take away Amber [Smith] in the middle to help the press.”

It was the second time in as many games that Missouri looked to play tight down the stretch of a game once some extra pressure was applied. It looked free and easy in the first half when 3s were falling and the tempo was fast paced. Yet when Auburn got some shots to fall and applied some pressure, Missouri tightened up.

“They turn every team over,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “I thought we did a good job of handling their pressure for the most part.”

Missouri came into the contest as the third best 3-point shooting team in the SEC, while Auburn came in last place in opponent 3-point shooting. This was evident in the first half, but in the second Missouri was only able to convert one 3-point shot. This game highlights the importance of a fast-paced game and Missouri’s 3-point ability. The first quarter was about as perfect as a team can get. While no team can be that perfect for a long stretch of time, Missouri needs to find a way to play to its strengths at a more consistent basis.

That being said, the first quarter also proved that Missouri has that very capability.

“I feel like we are as close as we’ve ever been,” Pingeton said. “The leadership in the locker room has been outstanding.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker15@themaneater.com

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