Vanderbilt spoils Missouri women’s basketball senior day

Sophie Cunningham: “Hopefully this tournament we can do that, but we’re going to have to pull up our sleeves and get to work.”

A fan holds a senior support sign as the four veteran players are recognized during their last home game Feb. 28.

It’s one of the worst things that can happen optically — a team losing on their own senior day. On Sunday at Mizzou Arena, the Missouri women’s basketball team did just that.

Hosting a Vanderbilt team (16-13, 5-11 SEC) that had lost eight straight games, No. 24 Missouri (21-8, 8-8 SEC) wasn’t supposed to lose this game. That was until the team shot 6-for-22 from the perimeter and 19-for-44 in general, and that lack of offensive success halted the sentimental pregame atmosphere as the Tigers fell 56-52.

“This is really not the way that we wanted to send (our seniors) out,” coach Robin Pingeton said. “This one cuts a little bit deeper being senior night because we’ve had a great team, a great season and it was the last home game in front of a great crowd for our seniors. We had some shots that didn’t fall for us, we had some miscues, but the thing you can’t question is this team’s heart.”

In front of 5,998 fans, the eighth-most in Missouri’s women’s basketball history, the flowers, the parents and all the senior day staples took place before the loss — to honor seniors Morgan and Maddie Stock, Juanita Robinson and Michelle Hudyn. Then came the tip-off and the Missouri freshman took center stage in hopes of getting a final win ahead of the SEC tournament.

Cierra Porter and freshman guard Sophie Cunningham sparked Mizzou to a quick 6-0 start, and at the 6:29 mark, Vanderbilt called a timeout trailing 12-2.

Since beating Arkansas on the road weeks ago, early deficits had plagued Vanderbilt. After a Vandy spurt, a running Stephen Curry-like scoop shot from junior guard Liana Doty gave Missouri a 20-19 lead at the end of the first half.

Vanderbilt made adjustments in the second quarter as sophomore guard Christa Reed scored eight points for her team to begin the quarter, and by halftime, the Commodores led 33-28.

“I just felt like after those first seven, eight or nine minutes, we exhaled, and you cannot do that in the SEC,” Pingeton said. “We just let down our guard and they came and through that next punch.”

Missouri scoring was hard to come by in the second half. Cunningham and Porter were keyed on, but also, the shots failed to fall.

In the fourth quarter, Morgan Stock hit a 3-pointer after a five-minute scoring drought to cut Vanderbilt’s lead to two points. Then, Cunningham hit one-legged running 3-pointer to give the Tigers the lead.

As the clock continued to tick down and the teams continued to trade baskets, Missouri found themselves in the losing column as the clock hit zero.

“The three kind of got us going again, but we have yet to put 40 minutes altogether,” Cunningham said. “Hopefully this tournament we can do that, but we’re going to have to pull up our sleeves and get to work.”

That’s what lies next for the Missouri women’s basketball team — the SEC basketball tournament in Jacksonville, Fla., starting March 3.

A loss like this and the loss to Kentucky on Tuesday certainly brings about a challenge, but that’s something that Missouri must embrace.

“There’s no doubt in our mind that we’re still going to make a run,” junior guard Lindsey Cunningham said. “The last team we’re going to do is feel sorry for ourselves. This team is not done. We’re going to make a run.”

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