Missouri women jump to early lead, hold on against Kentucky comeback

Missouri women jump to early lead, hold on against Kentucky comeback

After being up by as many as 16, Missouri had to withstand one last run from Kentucky.

Junior Taylor Murray had just scored five of her 23 points in the last 23 seconds, ending her run with a contested triple to make it a three-point game with seven seconds left.

But juniors Sophie Cunningham and Cierra Porter made seven free throws in the last 30 seconds to finish off the game for the Tigers, giving Missouri its seventh conference win, 83-78.

Head coach Robin Pingeton knew the Wildcats were going to stick around.

“I didn’t think they were going to go away,” Pingeton said. “I thought they were really in attack mode, very aggressive going to the rim. I thought they hit some tough shots. In this league you’ve gotta play 40 minutes and we did.”

For Missouri, a trio of Tigers each had individual runs that led Missouri to a quick start before they withstood a furious Wildcat rally at the end of the fourth quarter.

First it was redshirt senior Jordan Frericks, then it was Cunningham, then Porter.

Frericks was in control around the basket in the early going, scoring 12 first-quarter points and scoring all 15 of her points in the first half.

Frericks also had nine rebounds with six offensive rebounds in the first half, cleaning up the mess after the few misses the Tigers had in the early going.

Frericks commended the ball movement by Missouri for getting her easy looks.

“I think just our ball movement [was working well],” Frericks said. “I think they kind of got lost on our movement offensively and Sophie and the girls were able to find me.”

Frericks was joined by Cunningham in the first half. Cunningham fed Frericks for back-to-back backdoor layups late in the first before she finished a back cut of her own with 1:38 left in the opening quarter. Cunningham led all scorers with 29 and added five assists.

Cunningham also hit shots from outside to bust the Wildcat’s 2-3 zone, hitting five 3s and leading the Tiger’s aerial assault from behind the arc.

Missouri was 10 for 21 from behind the arc and took advantage of the holes left from the zone.

Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell commended the Tigers on their approach in the first quarter to break the zone. Missouri started out hot, shooting 11 of 14 in the first quarter.

“We have transitioned to this 2-3 zone, and I think it had people off balance for awhile,” Mitchell said. “Robin [Pingeton] and her staff did a great job on scheming early on, and we were not playing that correctly, and it really gashed us in the first quarter.”

After feeding Cunningham and Frericks in the first half, it was Porter’s turn to carry the load in the second.

She and Cunningham each had a team-high five assists, but Porter added 14 of her 16 points in the second half. Porter also had her 18th career double-double with a team-leading 11 rebounds.

Sophomore Amber Smith also was a factor on both ends of the floor. Smith assisted on the Tigers first two field goals and then hit a step-back jumper with 3:33 to go to put the Tigers back up 8 before Missouri withstood Kentucky’s final push.

Smith was one of four Tigers in double figures and scored 13 points, had four rebounds and two assists to go along with a 3-for-6 performance from behind the arc, including two triples in the middle of the third quarter.

Next, Missouri goes on the road to Fayetteville to play Arkansas on Sunday at 4 p.m.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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