Missouri receives much needed addition in Porter heading into SEC play

Cierra Porter poised to provide new life for the Tigers both on and off the court.

Normally, an 11-3 record heading into conference play is a positive. However, for the Missouri Tigers, it is a drastic underachievement.

Missouri hadn’t lost a nonconference regular-season home game since 2011 — this year it’s lost two. Missouri came into the year as the No. 16 team in the nation. Now it sits unranked and hasn’t received a vote in the polls in two weeks.

Heading into SEC play would normally seem daunting for an under-performing team like the Tigers. However, Missouri now has new life in the form of 6-foot-4 senior Cierra Porter. She is making her return to the court after medically retiring in June.

Porter easily becomes the tallest active member on the Tigers, a team that is drastically undersized. Priority one right now for Missouri is to get her back in basketball shape.

“It’s great to have Cierra back on the roster,” coach Robin Pingeton said. “She’s really not that far off from where we would want her to be right now, which is incredible.”

Porter had the whole summer as well as the preseason for the recovery of her knee, which has never been fully healthy since her eighth grade year. Even Porter didn’t really see this as an option when she was forced to cut her career short.

“I really started thinking about it when I went out doing regular adult things and it felt good,” Porter said. “I never really wanted to leave. I missed [basketball] and I’m just happy to be back.”

Having Porter back helps the Tigers both on and off the court. She brings experience to a Missouri squad that relies heavily on its younger talent.

“She can play defense, rebound and stretch the offense out nicely,” Pingeton said. “She has a high basketball IQ that will help our team.”

While Porter is without a doubt a major positive to this team, playing a number of months without her allowed other members to step up. Junior Amber Smith has come into her own offensively, already tallying six double-doubles.

“Without Cierra it’s maybe been a blessing in disguise,” Pingeton said. “It’s forced some other players to step up. Obviously Amber has taken on a much bigger role than she has in the past.”

Up to this point in the season, Smith has been the main post presence for Missouri. She is listed at 5-foot-11, which isn’t universally considered as a true “post,” let alone in the SEC. Her role will be changing with Porter’s return.

“It is really good to have [Porter] back,” Smith said. “Having her back enhances how I play. It’s nice having another high-scoring and high-rebounding player beside me and Sophie.”

There are concerns to having Porter back, as that knee isn’t automatically healed because of time off. Porter played a mere 11 minutes in the win against Arkansas State, and those minutes will increase as her conditioning gets better. It is unlikely Porter will return to 100 percent form given her medical history.

“There’s already a little swelling in the knee, which we expected,” Pingeton said. “We have to try and balance the wear and tear in her knees.”

Porter, a former all-SEC player, returns to Missouri just in the right time as it is set to take on an extremely tough slate of SEC teams.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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