Sophomore Cierra Porter shines in Missouri’s convincing win over Auburn

Mizzou pounds the paint en route to a 15-point victory.
Missouri forward Cierra Porter, 4, extends to steal the loose ball in a game against Auburn last season.

In Missouri’s 68-53 dismantling of Auburn, the Tigers’ 36 points in the paint tells the whole story. Mizzou dominated this area and had no problem solving Auburn’s zone defense. Mizzou was led by Cierra Porter’s 27-point, nine-rebound performance.

This was Mizzou’s fourth straight victory. The Tigers are now 15-7 and 5-3 in Southeastern Conference play. Auburn slips to 14-7 and 4-3 in the SEC.

Auburn opened the game in a zone press, looking to disrupt Mizzou offensively.

“[Auburn] is a team that can really make you play at a pace that you are not comfortable with,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “A lot of that happens when you just put your head down, start driving and trying to beat the pressure… against this type of pressure, we felt like we wanted to really stretch the floor with our passing.”

Mizzou did a great job early handling the press, with just four turnovers in the first quarter. Porter made her presence felt early in the first, racking up four points on 2-3 shooting in the first six minutes.

However, Brandy Montgomery hit two early 3-pointers and helped keep Auburn close. Janiah McKay scored four points in the last minute of the first to bring Auburn within three points.

The game’s major turning point was the second quarter. After leading Auburn 16-13 in the first, Mizzou took complete control of the game through points in the paint. The second quarter quickly turned into the Porter and Amber Smith show. The two players combined for all 17 of Mizzou’s points during that quarter.

“Coach always in practice says get the ball to the middle, face up, look for the shot, partner and opposite,” Smith said. “That’s what I did. Every time I looked for my shot, there was a big gap in the defense, and I took that gap.”

But it wasn’t just the points that swayed the game heavily in Mizzou’s favor, it was the way Mizzou was getting them, as the Tigers dissected Auburn’s zone defense for easy layups. Porter and Smith combined for 12 points in the paint in the second. Porter finished the half with 14 points and seven rebounds, while Smith chipped in 11 and two.

At the half, Mizzou led 33-26. This was Mizzou’s second straight game with a big a halftime lead, but leading scorer Sophie Cunningham was held scoreless on 0-2 shooting. She finished with just three points and five shot attempts.

Despite her lack of scoring, Cunningham made contributions elsewhere to lead the team to victory. Coach Robin Pingeton gave credence to this after the game.

“Just so mature on her [Cunningham] end,” Pingeton said. “She was a huge part of this win tonight. If you were to look at a box score and critique the game, you would never understand it.”

Auburn extended the zone into an aggressive full-court press to begin the second half. The press completely disrupted the game in the third, turning it into a choppy, foul-filled mess, with no flow. The teams combined for 18 fouls and six turnovers in that quarter. The effective pressure negated many chances for Porter and Smith to get involved offensively. Auburn also had 12 free throws to help inch back into the game but converted just nine. Mizzou ultimately won the quarter 14-11 and had a 47-37 lead heading into the fourth.

Then it was all Missouri. After Lindsey Cunningham opened the quarter with a 3-pointer, the Tigers quickly returned to dumping the ball to Porter.

“I was getting really great, high-percentage looks because of the passes my teammates had,” Porter said. “Our coaches’ game plan was inside out, and we just trusted the game plan. This was the result.”

Porter completed back-to-back three-point plays to put the Tigers up 56-40 with 6:52 left in the fourth. After Erica Sanders finished a putback layup to break up a 7-0 Mizzou run, Porter went right back to the paint, converting her third and-one score of the quarter, followed by another one on the next possession and a new career high of 27 points.

“That wasn’t my career high,” Porter said. “That’s all my teammates. I had great passes if you go back and look at that, so it wasn’t really about me.”

The Tigers are back in action at Mizzou Arena at 6 p.m. Jan. 30 when they face SEC foe Kentucky.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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