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Missouri women’s basketball cruises past Kansas State

Sophie Cunningham was held to one point and the Tigers attempted just two free throws, but No. 19 Missouri still defeated Kansas State 73-59 on Thursday night.

Amber Smith paced Missouri (6-1) with 23 points, five rebounds and four assists. The Tigers shot 52 percent from the field and 48 percent from deep and led for all but 16 seconds of play.

“I think a lot of people - and rightfully so - a lot of people talk about Cierra and Sophie and Jordan, and they’ve earned that and they deserve that,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “I don’t know how you could forget about Amber.”

Late in the first quarter the bench cleared and Smith jumped in the air to bump with a teammate. Smith had just drained a contested corner three to put Missouri up by nine for her third straight bucket.

“Huge,” Smith said when asked how big the basket looked. “(Pingeton) continued to remind me to have my shooting foot back.” Foot placement is overlooked when it comes to jump-shooting, but Smith said it helps improve her performance.

It was early, but the Tigers emotion was a showcase of how much more energized they were than the Wildcats (5-2). They used a 9-0 run in the second period fueled by three consecutive 3-pointers to go up double digits.

While Cunningham didn’t make a field goal, Pingeton told her after the game that she was more proud of her than she ever had been. “People want to know what’s the next step for Sophie and it’s leadership and just staying in the moment, being there for her teammates.”

Cunningham stayed engaged despite her scoring woes with seven rebounds and three assists while playing excellent defense. “When you’ve got a scoring mentality and you’re used to scoring the ball it’s really hard, but she handled it well tonight,” Pingeton said.

The Missouri lead would swell to as large as 23 points in the third quarter, but the Wildcats cut it down to single digits in the fourth. “I thought we played freer in the second half,” Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie said. “I thought we played aggressive, and I thought we took the right shots for us.”

Smith hit a huge three with seven minutes left to quell the momentum and put her team back up 11. “She hit shots at the end of the shot clock - both first and second half - shots that were just daggers when we’d make runs,” Mittie said.

While it was lights out shooting that broke the game open, Mizzou also controlled the glass. It out-rebounded Kansas State 39 to 28 and scored 17 second-chance points.

The effort was led by strong play from Cierra Porter. Porter scored 16 points and grabbed seven boards in only 21 minutes.

Missouri has won six straight and hosts New Orleans at 2 p.m. on Saturday.