Missouri women cruise to 89-64 road win in opener over Western Illinois

Sophie Cunningham’s senior season began with a 31-point effort as the Tigers took care of business in Macomb, Illinois.
Missouri guard Akira Levy holds the ball at the top of the key as time runs out in the first half of Missouri's 70-48 exhibition win over Missouri Western on Monday, Oct. 30, 2018. Levy, who was a top-70 recruit, is a possible starter for Missouri's 18-19 squad.

It took a 30-minute tip-off delay and a somewhat shaky first half, but the Missouri Tigers pushed through after halftime to overwhelm Western Illinois University, 89-64, on opening night of the women’s basketball season.

Senior Sophie Cunningham led Missouri with 31 points, while Amber Smith added 14 points and 12 rebounds.

The No. 16 Tigers (1-0) and Leathernecks (0-1) saw the game’s original start time of 8 p.m. CST pushed back to 8:30 due to a Western Illinois volleyball game that occupied the court at Western Hall.

Both teams struggled offensively in the first quarter, with Missouri shooting 41.2 percent from the field and Western Illinois shooting 18.8 percent as the Tigers took an 18-8 lead.

Rebounding was perhaps Missouri’s most decisive advantage on the night. It outrebounded the Leathernecks 52-32 and limited them to just six offensive boards.

Much has been made of Missouri’s lack of size entering the season, with rebounding being considered one of the team’s possible weak points. Despite the strong performance on Tuesday, those concerns aren’t likely to die down just yet. Western Illinois has only two 6-foot players on its roster, making it one of the few teams Missouri will have a size advantage against.

Western Illinois crawled its way back into the game to some extent in the second quarter, outscoring Missouri 19-17 as the Tigers began to miss shots at a higher rate. The enthusiastic crowd in Macomb, Illinois, was buoyed by the single-digit halftime deficit to a nationally ranked team, but the joy wouldn’t last very long into the third quarter.

Missouri’s experienced scorers led the way in the second half. Cunningham, Smith and Lauren Aldridge combined for 59 of the Tigers’ 89 total points, with Cunningham’s 22 in the second half setting the tone as Mizzou pulled away.

Smith finished with a team-high 12 rebounds, giving her a double double to start the season.

After suffering an ankle sprain during Missouri’s first exhibition game last week, redshirt junior forward Hannah Schuchts returned on Tuesday, scoring 4 points in nine minutes on the court.

Freshman Akira Levy, who stood out during the exhibitions thanks to her energetic and aggressive play, started the game for the Tigers but got into foul trouble early in her first career regular season game. She would be limited to 13 minutes on the night, finishing with 4 points.

The win was certainly one that Missouri was expected to have, but after struggling to clean up their game during two exhibitions last week, the Tigers looked improved as they shut the door on their hosts Tuesday.

Western Illinois is no stranger to upsets, either. Last season, the Leathernecks bested traditional powerhouse Stanford on its home court, the same court where Missouri would be upset by Florida Gulf Coast in the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers will return to Columbia for their regular season home opener next Tuesday, when Missouri State pays a visit to Mizzou Arena at 7 p.m. CST.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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