Missouri looks for second win against Tennessee this season in Sunday rematch

Missouri looked strong in its win over Mississippi State on Thursday, and has returned to Columbia brimming with confidence.

Missouri (19-7, 8-4) will attempt the difficult task of beating a team twice in a season on Sunday when it takes on Tennessee (16-8, 5-6). The first matchup resulted in a historic win for Missouri: its first win in Knoxville in program history.

“It’s hard to win in this league, let alone twice,” coach Robin Pingeton said. “Our approach doesn’t change, we’ve got to control what we can control.”

A rematch is slated for 4 p.m. CST on Sunday, with a large crowd expected. Missouri is hosting its annual “Pink Out Game,” the same promotional event that brought a record crowd of 11,092 for last year’s bought.

Missouri won the first game this year 66-64 on the road. The Tigers have fared well at home for most of the year. They are 11-2 at home on the year and haven’t lost an SEC home game all year.

“We have to stay true to the game plan,” junior Amber Smith said. “We don’t want to become the hunted, we want to become the hunters again.”

The Tigers have had their fair share of ups and downs this season, and right now they seem to be trending up. The whole team is exuberating confidence.

“I think we are peaking at the right time,” senior Cierra Porter said. “We are all in a really good spot mentally, and we are knocking down shots.”

A lot has changed since that Jan. 6 contest for both teams. The Volunteers haven’t had the season they thought they would, as they have dropped out of the top-25 rankings and sit seventh in the SEC with a 5-6 conference record. Last year, Tennessee finished the season 25-8, 11-5 in conference, and it hosted games in the NCAA Tournament.

The loss to Missouri was the first of six straight for Tennessee. Just as Missouri is playing its best basketball, Tennessee seems to be at the end of its skid. The Volunteers are 4-1 in their last five games.

“I think we are better than we were a month ago, but they are better than they were too,” Pingeton said. “They have had their rough patches, but I think they are coming out of the backside of it right now.”

Missouri will have to put the Mississippi State win in the rearview mirror for the time being and focus solely on the game at hand. Freshman Akira Levy, who had one of her best games as a Tiger in that win, highlighted that point.

“It’s very important to not take our foot off of the gas,” Levy said. “We have to keep on going, this train is rolling, I want to win out, that’s our goal.”

Missouri has been known to play the level of its competition this season, both on the positive side with wins against teams like Tennessee and Mississippi State, and the negative side with losses against LSU, Florida and Green Bay earlier in the year.

“We just have to stay true to who we are every game,” Pingeton said. “We have finally gotten to a point with this team where they understand what that looks like game after game.”

As conference season winds down, every game is more important than the last.

“We are all fighting for a lot right now,” Pingeton said. “We’ve all got a lot on the line.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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