Missouri loses to Iowa in NCAA Tournament, ending season

The Tigers couldn’t keep up with Iowa in the final game of the season and Sophie Cunningham’s career in a Mizzou uniform.
Designed by Corey Hadfield

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Sophie Cunningham era at Mizzou – one that spanned four years, 128 games, and 4164 minutes – came to a close on Sunday in Iowa City, Iowa, as Missouri (24-11, 10-6 SEC) lost to the Iowa Hawkeyes (28-6, 14-4 Big Ten) 68-52 in the round of 32 of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. Cunningham, the Columbia native, scored 8 points, 6 of which came in the first quarter, in her finale. She fought through tears as she exited the court at Carver-Hawkeye Arena after the final buzzer.

“It wasn’t because my season’s over,” she said. “I’ve been blessed. I’m healthy. I have more basketball in my future, but it’s just the family. It’s the culture. It’s the community that has embraced me and I’m so blessed and humbled that God gave me this platform.”

“I don’t know if there are words to describe it,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “I don’t know that it’s set in quite yet.”

Missouri got off to a quick start, knocking down four 3-pointers in the first quarter. Junior guard Jordan Roundtree put an exclamation point on the period with a half-court buzzer beater to give Mizzou a 20-16 lead heading into the second.

It was in the second quarter that Iowa’s All-Big Ten forward Megan Gustafson began to wake up. The senior, who had made just two field goals in the first quarter, scored 8 points, all of them on shots within 15 feet of the basket.

“They adjusted after the first quarter, so it was tough to stay in [a defense that worked],” junior forward Hannah Schuchts said. “She’s a really good player, so we just tried to have different ways to have help coming from somewhere, but obviously it’s difficult when they’re used to facing defenses who are trying to help in on her.”

Gustafson stayed hot for the rest of the game, ending the afternoon with 24 points and 19 rebounds. She and juniors Makenzie Meyer and Kathleen Doyle combined for 57 of Iowa’s 68 points. Contrasting Gustafson’s dominance in the post, Meyer did her beyond the 3-point line, shooting 4-7 from beyond the arc.

“We felt like if they hit seven, eight, nine, ten 3s and we were able to slow Megan down a little bit, we’d be willing to live with it,” Pingeton said. “But she’s got a great supporting cast and I think those girls really know their roles. They know what’s expected and they just play such unselfish basketball and they just executed really well.”

As Iowa made offensive adjustments to free up its best players, the 3-pointers that were so lethal for Mizzou in the first quarter stopped falling. After starting out the game 4-7 from downtown, the Tigers shot 5-22 over the final three quarters.

“I think we’re a team that what we’re known for is knocking down shots, knocking down 3s and they were not falling today” senior forward Cierra Porter said. “They do a good job. They mix up their defense, try to keep you on your toes for sure, so I’m not trying to take any credit away from them. I think it’s a combination because we normally knock down those shots.”

While Mizzou trailed for most of the last 25 minutes of the game, it was a close competition until the fourth quarter. Junior Amber Smith and senior Lauren Aldridge scored all 12 of MU’s points in the third, as the Tigers never trailed by more than 6 points.

Up by seven, Iowa began the final period with a 10-0 run and didn’t look back to end the Tigers’ season. For Pingeton, it was a rough way to finish the season and the careers of Cunningham, Porter and Aldridge.

“This is always the toughest press conference of the year, and it doesn’t really settle in immediately, but just the thought of this being it for our three seniors is hard,” she said. “I just love these girls to death and this senior class has been so incredibly special to the University of Missouri.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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