Young Sophie Cunningham makes history against Wake Forest

Cunningham went for 42 points Sunday night to break Missouri basketball’s single-game scoring record.

It was against Oklahoma on Jan. 25, 1986 that Renee Kelly scored 41 points and broke the Missouri women’s basketball record for points in a single game.

That’s almost 30 years ago.

“Back To The Future” was fresh out of theaters, the Tigers were still competing in the Big Eight Conference and now-coach Robin Pingeton was still in high school. Maybe most importantly, Sophie Cunningham wouldn’t be born for another 10 years.

On Sunday night at Mizzou Arena, Cunningham stripped Kelly of that record, putting up 42 in a 94-81 victory over Wake Forest.

“Coming in, we knew (Cunningham) was a pretty special player,” Pingeton said after the win. “She’s a kid that wants to be a trailblazer … We felt like she was going to make a pretty big impact immediately, and she’s done just that.”

There is no doubt that she’s been big for them. In just four games as a Tiger, the freshman guard has already etched her name in Missouri history.

Cunningham raised her average to 21.5 points per game Sunday, sinking 72 percent of her field goal attempts and six 3-pointers.

Before the game, Wake Forest coach Jen Hoover pulled her three freshmen aside for a quick chat.

“You guys remember her, right?” she asked them of Cunningham, whom they had seen last year in AAU games. Two said they did. Freshman guard Ariel Stephenson did not.

Then she saw her.

“Oh, yeah, Coach,” Stephenson, last week’s Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Week, told Hoover. “I remember.”

Stephenson guarded Cunningham, last week’s Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week, for a large portion of the game. But this didn’t seem like an even fight. Cunningham’s counterpart only scored eight points and shot 25 percent.

“We knew she was a dynamic player who could score a lot,” Hoover said post-game. “She’s a tough matchup for anyone … She is one of the best matchups out there.”

Cunningham's performance can be best summed up by one single play. With five seconds to go in the first quarter, she got the ball at the top of the arc. She held it a little bit, not looking at the game clock. The timer read, “1.5,” and her teammates started yelling for her to shoot. So she did.

Money.

The Columbia native turned around and started laughing as she ran back to the bench to talk it over and prepare for the next quarter with her coaches and fellow Tigers.

“Just lucky, I guess,” a humble Cunningham said of the shot.

As soon as the game ended, Cunningham hugged her coaches, high-fived her teammates and greeted fans — a smile on her face the whole time.

Aside from the three decades separating the two games, Cunningham and Kelly’s records have one key difference: the 1985-86 Tigers lost.

“It’s really not about (the record), it’s just trying to get the win,” Cunningham said. “My teammates did a great job of giving me the ball when I needed it, so props to them.”

Junior guard Lindsey Cunningham was proud of her little sister and her attitude.

“She sets goals for herself, and she works super hard,” Lindsey Cunningham said. “Not one night does she go out there and think, ‘I want 20 points, I want 42 points.’ That’s never on her mind. She’s an awesome team player, and she’s put in the work and has the right mindset. I think it’s really cool. It’s a great accomplishment for her and the entire program as a whole.”

Throughout Sunday night, the younger Cunningham said she didn’t even know the program kept a single-game record.

Pingeton didn’t know what the record was until one of her assistants, with two minutes left in the game, told her the freshman was about to break it.

Sophie Cunningham laid it out nice and simple.

“That’s what hard work gets ya.”

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