Missouri keeps season alive with NCAA Tournament win over Drake

The Tigers will face No. 2-seed Iowa on Sunday for a chance to advance to the sweet 16.
Designed by Corey Hadfield

With a chance to take the final shot in a tie game, Missouri women’s basketball has a couple of shooting options that immediately come to mind.

There’s senior Sophie Cunningham, the program’s all-time leading scorer who has had her fair share of clutch moments in her storied career. Then there’s senior Cierra Porter, the Tigers’ most dominant inside presence, capable of muscling her way through the paint for a tough layup.

But on Friday afternoon against No. 10-seed Drake in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, No. 7-seed Missouri had to find another way. Porter and Cunningham were both sidelined after fouling out in what had been a back-and-forth overtime contest in Iowa City, Iowa. With the game tied at 76, the Tigers struggled to find an open look in the final seconds. Junior Jordan Roundtree threw up a contested 3-point shot with less than a second remaining.

Then the whistle blew. Roundtree’s shot was blocked, but she had drawn a foul from Drake’s Becca Hittner.

Roundtree wasn’t at her best at the free throw line, but she managed to sink one of her three attempts. After a Bulldogs miss at the buzzer, Missouri could celebrate a 77-76 overtime victory.

It was the Tigers’ first NCAA Tournament victory since 2017 after last season’s upset loss to Florida Gulf Coast in the first round. That loss had haunted the Tigers for a year, but they managed to shove their memories aside and come out on top in a game that was close from wire to wire.

Missouri came out hot with a 14-0 run in the first quarter to take a 21-12 lead, but neither team would lead by more than six after the start of the second quarter. In fact, the Tigers and Bulldogs would be within one possession of each other for the last six minutes of regulation and all of overtime.

Physicality was another defining feature of Friday’s matchup. The teams combined for 36 personal fouls, including the disqualifications of Porter and Cunningham and the game-clinching call against Hittner.

The Bulldogs were led by Hittner, who scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and redshirt junior Sara Rhine, who added 18 points. Drake shot 46.2 percent from deep and hung tight in the rebounding battle, which Missouri won 37-34.

Cunningham and Porter were Missouri’s top contributors with 21 and 18 points, respectively. Cunningham was a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line, including some important foul shots in the final minutes of both regulation and overtime.

Roundtree’s late trip to the line was actually her second chance to win the game for Missouri after she missed a contested layup with 21 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Drake could not convert on the ensuing possession, sending the game to overtime.

The Tigers will remain in Iowa City and face No. 2-seed Iowa, the hosts of the weekend’s festivities, in the tournament’s second round on Sunday. The Hawkeyes were far from impressive in their first round victory earlier Friday afternoon, edging No. 15-seed Mercer 66-61.

Missouri will need to contain Iowa senior Megan Gustafson, a Naismith Trophy finalist who scored 30 points against Mercer. The Hawkeyes finished the regular season 26-6 and won the Big Ten Tournament before struggling to defeat Mercer.

Iowa is coached by Lisa Bluder, who coached Missouri coach Robin Pingeton when Pingeton was a player at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. After graduating, Pingeton’s first coaching job was as an assistant under Bluder at Drake.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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