Sophie Cunningham scores late layup to upset No. 6 South Carolina
Missouri women’s basketball stays strong through crunch time to gain its ninth conference win this season.
Feb. 20, 2017
In the dying moments of Sunday’s basketball game against the South Carolina Gamecocks, sophomore Sophie Cunningham tried to dribble around her opponent. She passed the ball to redshirt senior Lianna Doty, a pass that very nearly did not make it. Doty quickly passed it back along the perimeter, and then Cunningham, seeing an opening, forced herself into the paint and made a layup with 0.6 seconds left.
The crowd exploded.
With that layup, Missouri women’s basketball edged out the No. 6 Gamecocks 62-60 in a game that supported Susan G. Komen Missouri’s fight against breast cancer.
The Tigers came into the game as underdogs, battling against a team ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll. Entering the game, South Carolina led the Southeastern Conference in field goal percentage and was tied with Mississippi State for first place in the conference.
“[It’s] an incredible program at South Carolina,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “They’re a team that can definitely compete in the national championships this season.”
For much of the game, Missouri struggled to gain a lead, but the team never fell too far behind.
The first half remained a back-and-forth affair, with both sides keeping even. The Tigers kept South Carolina scoreless beyond the arc in the first quarter.
“We knew we had to keep pressure on the ball,” Pingeton said. “With 70 percent [of South Carolina’s shots] coming from the paint, we tried to take that away.”
The Tigers came into the second half four points down, but they began slipping early on.
“We talked about our spacing more than anything,” Pingeton said. “We had four people in the channel or outer third…we got stuck…everybody was coming to the ball.”
Things seemed to take a dive when South Carolina took a double-digit lead, and senior Lindsey Cunningham, boxed out for a rebound and not feeling well, had to take a temporary exit after throwing up in a trash can.
Key plays from senior Sierra Michaelis, Doty and especially Sophie Cunningham allowed the Tigers to claw back to a tie, and a drive from Doty in the middle of the fourth quarter gave the Tigers the lead.
The score went back and forth in the final minutes of the game until Sophie Cunningham’s clutch shot occurred.
“She’s engaged,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “[Sophie] figures out ways to score. She put us back on our heels on a lot of places on the floor.”
Despite the loss, South Carolina still proved itself a dominant force defensively. The Gamecocks scored 26 points off of 21 Missouri turnovers and had twice as many steals as the Tigers.
One thing the Tigers did have was home-court advantage. Fans packed in for the Tigers’ second-to-last home game of the year and saw alumni recognized during halftime, including Juanita Robinson, who is recovering from a shooting in Chicago in late December.
“She’s gone through a lot many people don’t know,” Sophie Cunningham said after the game. “She’s a tough soldier. We have to win because she’s in the stands.”
Sunday’s win will be a big boost for Missouri’s chances of being selected for the NCAA Tournament. But Pingeton cautioned against any over-elation.
“We’re not one of those elite programs yet, but we’re making giant strides in that direction,” Pingeton said.
Next up: Missouri plays its last home game of the season Thursday against Ole Miss. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
Edited by Eli Lederman | firstname.lastname@example.org