Tennessee dominates on the glass as Mizzou women fall just short
Freshman Akira Levy taking a three-pointer probably wasn’t the number one option with the game on the line. However, Levy was stuck. She was at the top of the key and decided to let it fly. Tennessee was up 62-60 late in the fourth quarter.
“I saw a lane,” senior Sophie Cunningham said as she began to describe the Tigers' last offensive set. “And when I got there I felt like there were two big people on me. I saw [Levy] wide open and I kicked it to her. I don’t know if Amber was open or not, but at that time you just got to shoot it.”
Levy, who is career 26 percent shooter from three, missed wide right and Tennessee recovered the rebound. There were nine seconds left and the Lady Vols would hold on to their two-point lead to defeat Missouri on the road.
Cunningham added that if she had a shot she would have taken it before swinging the ball to Levy. The defensive pressure didn’t allow her to get a good look with so little time left.
Cunningham finished with 13 points. She went 5-15 from the field overall, 1-8 from three-point range and missed all four of her shots in the final quarter. But that didn’t change how happy Tennessee coach Holly Warlick was to see Cunningham pass the ball on the final possession.
“I think every play should go to Sophie,” Warlick said after the game. “I thought [coach Robin Pingeton] was going to go to her… look if I had Sophie Cunningham on my team I would go to her. She’s who I would go to.”
The last possession was the culmination of a bad final 52 seconds of play for Missouri. The second half was back and forth, but in the end, Tennessee’s offensive rebounds proved too much for the Tigers.
Senior Cierra Porter tied the game at 60 with 1:09 left in the fourth before Tennessee grabbed two offensive rebounds on the next possession. Sophomore Rennia Davis drew a foul after the second one. She went to the free throw line and swished both to put the Lady Vols up by two.
Tennessee finished with 17 offensive boards and 22 second-chance points, compared to Missouri’s eight offensive boards and nine second-chance points. The Lady Vols outrebounded the Tigers 41-30, the second time this year they’ve dominated Missouri on the glass.
“They’re one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country.,” Pingeton said. “It’s not just us, they do it to everybody… They’ve got good athleticism, good size. They did the same thing in Tennessee.”
Cunningham drove baseline and found junior Amber Smith all alone in the corner on next possession for Missouri. Smith was 1-2 from three before the shot, then proceeded to airball the go-ahead bucket. Porter grabbed the loose ball and was fouled by Davis. Out of the out-of-bounds play, Smith’s pass was deflected off the foot of freshman Mimi Collins and into the hands of sophomore Evina Westbrook. The crowd in Mizzou Arena erupted in frustration.
“Yeah, I think that was a pretty big call,” Pingeton said. “You know, I have to go back and look. It felt like a kicked ball. If it wasn’t, I don’t know. It’s neither here nor there, it shouldn’t come down to that.”
Westbrook and Davis combined for 34 points and eight assists but the difference for the Lady Vols came off the bench. Tennessee had six bench points in Knoxville but finished with 12 in the second matchup. Collins chipped in 11 points and six rebounds in the win. She only played five minutes in the first game. That helped swing another tight game between the two schools the Lady Vols way.
“Our mindset coming in was a little bit different,” Westbrook said. “But the overall game plan was pretty much the same. Guarding the arch, we know that they shoot. We know what they want to do on the offensive and defensive end… Coming in, I just felt that we weren’t going to lose this game, period.”
Tennessee held the Tigers to 31 percent from the three-point line, and no Missouri player made multiple threes.
One bright spot for Missouri was Porter. She went 6-7 from the field with 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds. She had her way in the post, finishing with both hands at the rim and shooting over defenders with ease. Porter’s had two double-digit scoring performances in the past three games. She was in double-digits once before this stretch.
The Tigers (19-8, 8-5) will travel to Auburn (19-7, 7-6) for their next matchup, on Feb. 27 at 2 p.m. Missouri and Auburn are currently fifth and sixth, respectively, in the SEC standings. Missouri defeated Auburn 74-65 on Jan 27 when Cunningham exploded for 30 points. Auburn defeated Alabama 77-38 on Sunday.