Mizzou women’s basketball topples South Carolina
COLUMBIA, MO. • Fourth-ranked South Carolina stepped onto the floor Sunday at Mizzou Arena for the first time since losing here last Feb. 19. The Gamecocks had since won 24 of 25 games, including a march to last year’s national championship. Their only setback came in November against Notre Dame, the No. 2 team in the country.
Sophie Cunningham and the No. 15 Tigers provided another one.
Returning from a knee injury suffered last Sunday at Alabama, Cunningham put together an inspired effort in an emotionally charged game, an 83-74 victory over the defending national champions. It was MU’s first win over a top-four team since 2006.
Cunningham, wearing a bulky brace on her right knee, finished with a game-high 27 points, three days after sitting out Thursday’s loss to Louisiana State. The Tigers (14-2, 2-1 SEC) got another 20 points and 12 rebounds from Amber Smith.
Cunningham’s fellow All-SEC standout, South Carolina forward A’Ja Wilson, fought foul trouble all day and scored a season-low eight points in just 19 minutes. Clearly upset with the calls that didn’t go her way, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley earned a pair of technical fouls and headed to the locker room with 2:56 left picking up the second.
The Gamecocks fell to 13-2 and 2-1 in the SEC.
Wilson took an early seat just 3:19 into the game after picking up her second foul, both on the offensive end while the Gamecocks were stalled in a scoreless span of 3:38.
Mizzou took a 13-5 lead on Jordan Chavis’ 3-pointer, but South Carolina chipped away and tied it 18-18 on Tyasha Harris’ jumper late in the quarter.
Cunningham drew her second foul on the final possession of the opening quarter as both came on the offensive end away from the ball trying to clear space from a defender.
The Tigers came on strong the rest of the half with Cunningham scoring six of their final eight points on a post-up, layup and baseline drive. Mizzou carried a 35-29 lead into halftime as Cunningham headed to the locker room with a game-high 11 points in just 14 minutes. The Tigers — and the early fouls — limited Wilson to just two points in eight minutes.
The third quarter couldn’t have started better for the Tigers. On USC’s second possession, Jordan Frericks stepped in front of Wilson in the paint and drew the All-American’s third foul, just 1:16 into the half. On USC’s next trip down the floor, Staley earned a technical foul that had been brewing since early in the first half, sending Cunningham to the foul line for two points and a 42-29 lead.
Staley kept her star on the floor, and the Gamecocks ripped off a quick 12-4 run. On one particularly impressive possession midway through the third quarter, Cunningham grabbed a rebound off her own miss and the Tigers patiently moved the ball for 29 seconds before Smith beat the shot clock with a corner 3-pointer. On MU’s next series, Cierra Porter drew Wilson’s fourth foul and finished off a three-point play to push the Tigers in front 52-41.
Cunningham closed the quarter with a dazzling scoop shot in the lane as the Tigers took a 60-50 lead into the fourth quarter.
Cunningham stayed on the attack, followed another layup with a celebratory dance wild enough to crack up Tigers coach Robin Pingeton on the bench.
But Cunningham quickly joined her there, along with Porter and Frericks, after drawing her fourth foul with 7:10 left. The Tigers held their ground without their three best players on the floor for three minutes, and with 2:56 left, the Gamecocks lost their star as Wilson collected her fifth foul. During the ensuing break, Staley earned her second technical foul, walked across Norm Stewart Court to a round of boos.