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Cunningham scores 29 as Missouri downs Kentucky 83-78

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The Tigers defended home-court against the Wildcats in a back-and-forth affair, just like the men’s team last week.

After an underwhelming performance against Florida on Monday, No. 15 Missouri needed its star player to bounce back against Kentucky.

Sophie Cunningham was held to 10 points against the Gators, eight below her season average. The junior forward answered the call when the Tigers needed her, however, dropping 12 points in the fourth quarter and 29 overall to lead Mizzou (19-5, 7-4 SEC) to an 83-78 win over the Wildcats (12-13, 4-7) on Thursday.

Cunningham didn’t do it alone, though.

Four players scored in double-digits for Mizzou, and the Tigers survived a late surge by Kentucky to win their second-straight.

“Coming out of the gates, we played extremely well. I thought our ball movement was outstanding, we shot the ball very well,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “Winning in the SEC is tough and this is a tough team. I think to have four players in double-figures… we’re moving in the right direction.”

Both teams traded buckets to start the game, and the Wildcats found themselves up 9-7 three minutes into the first quarter. The Tigers then found their rhythm over the next seven minutes and went on a 19-6 run, heading into the second up 26-15. Jordan Frericks caught fire in the quarter, putting up 12 points to lead all scorers.

“Robin and her staff did a great job of scheming early on, and we were just not playing that correctly,” Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. “They were fantastic in the first quarter. Ready to play ready to go. Tough team.”

Missouri continued to keep the Wildcats at bay in the second quarter, holding a nine-point lead at halftime. Cunningham added six points in the period to bring her total to 13.

Cunningham gave Tigers fans a slight scare just before intermission when she took herself out of the game and walked to the locker room. She just got her right hand wrapped in tape, though, before she returned to the bench.

“I told (my team) at halftime that this game was nowhere close to being over,” Pingeton said. “(The Wildcats) don’t stop.”

Despite Pingeton’s words of advice, Kentucky climbed back into the game to start the second half, scoring the first four points of the quarter. A couple baskets from Maci Morris and Keke McKinney to cut the Tigers’ lead to five. Amber Smith came back with two-straight three-pointers, however, to push the lead back to double-digits.

Both of Smith’s timely shots came on assists by Cierra Porter, who put together yet another impressive performance after dropping a career-high 27 points on Florida. She finished with a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double.

Missouri again had managed to halt the Wildcats’ attack, and the Tigers ended the quarter up 13 with the help of Porter’s eight third-quarter points.

Mizzou seemingly had the game put away, but it began to ease off the gas and allowed the Wildcats to go on an 8-2 run, cutting their deficit to seven points. Cunningham silenced the Kentucky bench with a triple the next trip down the court, putting Mizzou up 64-54 with 6:17 to play.

The Wildcats didn’t go away easily, though, and both teams went back and forth the rest of the way. Kentucky scored 32 points in the quarter, matching their total from the entire first half, but two late Cunningham free throws sealed the five-point win.

“I know our girls really want to do some things that haven’t been done here in a long time,” Pingeton said. “Taking care of your home court is really important, but in my opinion, in the SEC, every win is a big win for us.”

Next up for Mizzou: the Tigers will head to Arkansas (12-12, 3-8) on Sunday for a 4 p.m. matchup with the Razorbacks.

Game Highlights