Missouri uses scoring outburst in bounce-back win against Georgia

Sophie Cunningham scored a game-high 23 points, leading her Tigers to a big conference win against Georgia.

Mizzou Arena was still on its feet at the 5:20 mark of the first quarter waiting for Missouri to score its first points of the game. Then junior Amber Smith hit a layup and gave the Tiger faithful a reason to sit.

Missouri (15-4, 4-1) beat Georgia (12-6, 3-2) 61-35 in a defensive battle Thursday evening. The win marked a bounce-back for the Tigers after a disappointing road loss on Sunday to Florida.

Overall, Thursday night’s win was a sloppy contest. Missouri turned the ball over 18 times and Georgia turned it over 20.

“Missouri is a team that if you make mistakes, they’re going to capitalize on it,” Georgia coach Joni Taylor said. “They were the better team tonight.”

Georgia looked out of sync early though, allowing Missouri to take advantage early. Redshirt senior Lauren Aldridge hit a three at the 3:46 mark in the first quarter to give Missouri a 7-5 lead it would never relinquish.

Missouri held Georgia to single-digit points in all but one quarter. The Bulldogs only shot 30 percent from the field in the game and made only one 3-pointer.

In a game with little scoring, senior Sophie Cunningham provided the largest offensive spark of anyone. She broke out for a game-high 23 points, grabbed a team-high eight rebounds and totaled five steals.

It was a much-needed scoring outburst for Missouri, as Cunningham only scored 4 points in the loss to Florida.

The Tigers also totaled eight steals in Thursday’s contest.

“We spend so much time breaking personnel and taking away other team’s strengths,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “Our girls invest in the scouting report and watch a lot of film.”

Missouri needed a redeeming win after Sunday and it responded with a defensive game plan for Thursday’s win.

“I think we were assignment correct,” Cunningham said. “ We had that ‘dog’ mentality and really wanted to win. We weren’t back on our heels like we have been the last couple years against Georgia.”

Missouri lost to Georgia twice last season, including in the SEC Tournament. While this game might have been seen as a redemption opportunity to most, the Tigers spoke like it was any other.

“Every game is a big game here in the SEC,” Cunningham said. “Anyone can win on any given night but this win brings good momentum.”

Georgia was coming off of a win against No. 20 Tennessee on Sunday, proving Cunningham’s point. The Bulldogs came out flat after beating a ranked conference opponent, just as the Tigers did in Gainesville.

“More than anything, we’ve got to be more mature on the road,” Taylor said. “I don’t think we were riding the wave of beating Tennessee, but we didn’t respond well when Missouri gave us the first punch.”

Missouri will take to the road for its next two contests, both of which will have a massive impact on how the conference standings will shake out come tournament time. On Monday, Missouri will travel to South Carolina to take on the No. 15 Gamecocks at 6 p.m. CST.

Then the Tigers move onto Lexington to battle with the No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats on Thursday Jan. 24 with a 5:30 p.m. CST scheduled tip-off.

The South Carolina game has a plethora of storylines surrounding it, and Missouri knows it.

“I’m planning on reaching out to [South Carolina coach Dawn Staley],” Pingeton said. “No matter what we do, we still have two teams that are going to want to win that game.”

Some Missouri fans might be flying high after a big home win against Georgia going into Monday’s contest, but Pingeton wrapped up her postgame comments ready to get back to work.

“We still have a lot of things we can get better at,” Pingeton said.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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