Missouri holds on late, upsets No. 11 Tennessee

Sophie Cunningham led the Tigers with 32 points to give Missouri its 10th conference win.
Sophie Cunningham in action against Mississippi State.

Sophie Cunningham collected a pass from junior Cierra Porter and unloaded from the right wing.

As the shot fell through the bottom of the net, Cunningham broke a 62-all tie with 4:53 in the fourth quarter and nearly blew the roof off Mizzou Arena.

Cunningham led the Tigers to a 77-73 win over No. 11 Tennessee with 32 points, five rebounds and five assists on Sunday afternoon, as sophomore Amber Smith secured a Tiger victory after corralling a missed free throw from Tennessee freshman Rennia Davis.

After Cunningham hit the 3, it was crunch time, as senior Jaime Nared and Tennessee went to the rack with several plays to keep the game close.

No one told Cunningham.

“Well it was terrible awareness of me because going into the fourth quarter I didn’t even know it was the fourth quarter,” Cunningham said. “I was like, oh my gosh, we have two minutes left; we better get it done.”

Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick complimented Cunningham on her competitiveness and movement on offense, as well as her impact on both ends of the floor.

“She’s a competitor and she plays every position all-out,” Warlick said. “She was a handful for us. Someone who stands is easy to guard, but she doesn’t stop moving. She also has a great presence on the defensive end.”

The game was also a Play4Kay game. Play4Kay games are a series of games played around the country to raise money for the Kay Yow cancer fund and to remember former North Carolina State head coach Kay Yow, who died of breast cancer in 2009.

In last year’s Play4Kay game, the Tigers toppled then-No. 6 South Carolina 62-60 on a late bucket from Cunningham.

364 days after last year’s game, the magic was there again for Cunningham and the Tigers, as she hit big shot after big shot to lead the Tigers to their 10th conference victory.

Early on, she received a pass from redshirt junior Lauren Aldridge and splashed a 3 from the left wing.

Then Cunningham high-fived Aldridge and threw her arms into the air, igniting the record 11,092 pink- and yellow-clad fans at Mizzou Arena into a frenzy.

The triple from Cunningham in the second gave the Tigers a 15-point lead, but Nared and the Volunteers would answer.

Nared had 14 of her team-high 25 points in the second quarter and brought the Volunteers within 4 before Cunningham got a steal and went coast-to-coast to finish a reverse layup to put the Tigers up by 6 at the break.

The Volunteers came out hot again in the second half; a layup by Nared put the Volunteers within 4 before a putback by redshirt senior Mercedes Russell gave the Volunteers the lead with 6:07 left in the third.

Nared said postgame that the Volunteers were not aggressive early and that they turned up their pressure early in the third quarter.

“We weren't really aggressive in the first half,” Nared said. “We came out slow and we weren’t dictating on defense until the third quarter.”

Later, Cunningham tied the game at 51 with a baseline drive with 2:30 left in the third before she finished off the Volunteers with 12 points and seven made free throws in the fourth.

The two bigs for the Tigers also played a key role. Redshirt senior Jordan Frericks had 16 points and a team-high seven rebounds while Porter added 13 points and five rebounds.

Frericks fed Cunningham for a nifty reverse layup midway through the first. Frericks also drew a foul with 58 seconds left in the fourth by battling for an offensive rebound. Then she sank both free throws to give the Tigers a two-possession lead at 73-68.

Pingeton praised Frericks’ senior leadership.

“She’s put in a lot of time; she’s a senior; she’s got great maturity,” Pingeton said. “She’s got high basketball IQ. I think she’s worked really hard in practice and in the offseason. She’s on a mission.”

Porter was an impact player on both ends of the floor, hitting mid-range jumpers and dishing out three assists as well as being a key part of the defensive effort by the Tigers on Tennessee’s Russell.

Missouri held Russell, a 61 percent shooter, to 10 points on a 5-for-12 effort from the field.

Pingeton was pleased with Porter’s defense on Russell and also had the goal of pushing Russell to shoot shots away from the low block.

“We felt like as much as we could we needed to meet her and greet her early and not let her get to that second hash mark,” Pingeton said. “I thought Cierra did a phenomenal job on her, just contesting with high hands.”

Aldridge chipped in with three assists and a clutch triple from the corner that gave Missouri a 56-54 lead with 1:07 left in the third.

Coming into Sunday, Missouri and Tennessee were part of a five-way tie for third place in the Southeastern Conference at 9-4. After the win, the Tigers are tied for third in the conference with LSU at 10-4.

Next, the Tigers will have senior night versus Vanderbilt on Thursday at 7 p.m. and then play at Texas A&M on Sunday to determine their seed in the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, where the top four teams get a double-bye.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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