Tigers kickoff SEC play with win over Georgia

The Tigers came out strong in their first conference matchup, looking to set the tone for the rest of the season.
Sophomore guard Sophie Cunningham, 3, pushes off a defender, looking to create space and move to the basket to score during the second half of the home game facing the UT Martin Skyhawks.

For the (11-4) Missouri women’s basketball team, Jan. 1 meant more than the start of a new year; it marked the opening day of Southeastern Conference play for the Tigers. Last year, Mizzou went 8-8 in the SEC and was eliminated from the second round of the SEC tournament by Auburn 47-45. On Sunday, Mizzou defeated the (8-6) Georgia Bulldogs 63-45 at home.

The Tigers finished non-conference play with a 2-1 record over winter break heading into Sunday’s game. Mizzou defeated UT Martin and UC Riverside at home before losing to St. Louis University. Mizzou stretched its home non-conference winning streak to 32 games.

In Mizzou’s 80-69 win against UT Martin, senior Sierra Michaelis led the Tigers with 23 points. Michaelis drained five threes and moved to third all-time in Mizzou women’s basketball history career 3-pointers made with 143.

Mizzou narrowly defeated UC Riverside 68-62 after opening the game with a 16-0 run. In the win, sophomore Cierra Porter recorded a career-high 26 points and 12 rebounds and Michaelis chipped in a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

St. Louis played well enough to end Mizzou’s four-game winning streak, defeating Mizzou 72-61. The Billikens were led by junior Jackie Kemph, who had 18 points and 8 assists. St. Louis climbed back into the game in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Tigers 34-8 and getting the win.

Mizzou started 2017 strong with a 63-45 win over Georgia. The Tigers got going early, outscoring UGA 19-11 in the first quarter and ending the quarter on a 9-2 run. Michaelis scored eight of her 20 points in this period.

The Bulldogs responded in the second quarter with a 7-0 run and took a 22-21 lead. Georgia led 24-23 with 4:34 left in the second quarter before Mizzou retook the lead, which they would keep for the rest of the game.

Leading 33-29 at halftime, Mizzou asserted its will in the third quarter, outscoring UGA 18-6 and allowing just one field goal. In the second half, Porter dominated with a double-double, 10 points and 10 boards. Porter finished with 20 points, 12 boards and went 8-8 from the line, her seventh double-double this year. Down 51-35, UGA began the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run, but it was to no avail. Mizzou’s lowest lead in the fourth was seven points.

Mizzou is now 9-0 on the year at Mizzou Arena.

Here are three keys for the Tigers as they head deeper into conference play.

Three Keys To Mizzou In SEC Play

Non-conference stats

The first key for the Tigers heading into SEC play is sophomore Sophie Cunningham’s consistent offensive play. This season, she is averaging 16.1 points and 4.3 assists, and she closed out 2016 strong, averaging 19 points in the Tigers’ last three games. Cunningham is currently 10th in the SEC in scoring and eighth in assists.

Cierra Porter’s presence in the paint

Another key is Porter’s rebounding impact. Porter leads the Tigers in rebounding and has been a force on the glass all season. She is third in the SEC in total rebounding and currently ranks fifth in rebounds per game (9.3). Porter also serves as a defensive anchor, leading the Tigers in blocks. She is third in the SEC in total blocks and fifth in blocks per game.

Free-throw shooting

The last key is Mizzou’s free throw shooting. At 78.3 percent, the Tigers are first in the SEC in free throw percentage and 10th in the NCAA. Mizzou has shot over 80 percent five times this year. The Tigers are also doing a good job getting to the charity stripe. They are fourth in the SEC in attempts and have made over 20 free throws three times this year. Mizzou’s free throw leaders are Sophie Cunningham (86 percent), Amber Smith (85 percent) and Lindsey Cunningham (77 percent), respectively.

Mizzou’s next game is against #10 Kentucky on Thursday, Jan. 5 at 6 p.m. in Lexington.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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