Missouri women cruise past Tide as seniors bid farewell to Mizzou Arena

Missouri women cruise past Tide as seniors bid farewell to Mizzou Arena
MU seniors Sophie Cunningham, Lauren Aldridge and Cierra Porter share a laugh after the Missouri vs. Alabama women's basketball game on Sunday, March 3 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.

So often in sports, things don’t go as envisioned. An injury here, a bad call there, or simply an off day from a star player can derail even the most well-laid plans.

Sunday afternoon’s Senior Day matchup against Alabama, on the other hand, couldn’t have gone much more smoothly for the Missouri Tigers.

After a pregame ceremony to honor the team’s three seniors, injured freshman Akira Levy sang the national anthem in front of the announced crowd of 6,527. In its second game since losing Levy, Missouri (21-9, 10-6 SEC) made quick work of the Crimson Tide (13-16, 5-11) and ended an up-and-down regular season on a winning note.

Seniors Sophie Cunningham, Cierra Porter and Lauren Aldridge all contributed to the Tigers’ overwhelming effort and departed Mizzou Arena for the last time to standing ovations in the fourth quarter.

On an afternoon where neither Missouri nor Alabama had much to play for in terms of SEC Tournament seeding implications, the Tigers put forth one of their most balanced efforts of the year in what proved to be one of their easiest SEC wins. Alabama never got its foot in the door as a 3-pointer from Cunningham sparked a 10-0 Missouri run to begin the game.

The Tigers never surrendered the lead and were up by double digits for a large majority of the contest. After outscoring the Crimson Tide 21-5 in the first quarter, the rest of the afternoon passed with little if any bumps in MU’s road.

All 12 healthy Tigers saw action by the end of Sunday’s proceedings, and all but two put points on the board. Cunningham led the way with 22 points while junior Hannah Schuchts went 4-for-4 from deep to add 12 points. Porter and Aldridge dropped 11 and 7 respectively.

Emotions began to take center stage after the final buzzer. Missouri coach Robin Pingeton thanked the crowd on the court before a tearful press conference with her and the seniors.

“I’m going to miss playing here, but I’m going to miss the people,” Cunningham said. “I’m going to miss the people, the relationships… I just can’t put into words what it means and just the impact this community has had on us.”

Porter and Aldridge echoed Cunningham’s sentiment. Aldridge fought back tears as she described how opening up to the people and opportunities in front of her changed her approach to sports and school after transferring from Kansas in 2016.

“The one thing that I will say...that I’ve learned at Mizzou is that relationships at the end of the day are the most important thing,” Aldridge said. “I came in with this mindset of ‘Hey, it’s all about basketball, it’s all about law school... I love every single one of these girls and just what this program is all about.”

For Porter, who returned from medical retirement midway through this season, Senior Day was an experience she never thought she would be able to have.

“Honestly, I just feel so blessed,” Porter said. ‘Every day, even for a practice, I’ll just think ‘I’m not even supposed to be here right now.’ I get to spend this time with these amazing, genuine people... I’m just so blessed that I got to relive it with them.”

Cunningham finished the game with 2,069 total career points, 57 shy of Missouri’s program record. With games in both the SEC and NCAA Tournaments still to come, she will will have the chance to etch her name into the school record books by season’s end.

Kentucky’s victory over Georgia earlier Sunday meant that Missouri’s win locked it into fifth place in the SEC standings. The Tigers will travel to Greenville, South Carolina for the conference tournament later this week. They will face Mississippi or Florida in the tournament’s second round on Thursday at approximately 1:30 p.m. CST.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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