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Mizzou basketball opens conference play with dominant win

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Cierra Porter contributing early in return to Missouri

The non-conference schedule was not kind to Robin Pingeton’s 2018-2019 Missouri Tigers. After years of home court domination in the non-conference, Missouri dropped games to not one, but two non-Power Five opponents.

Part of the issue has been an uneven start from star Sophie Cunningham, a sentence which feels odd to think about considering she’s averaging nearly 16 points and six rebounds per game. However, she’s had a penchant to fouling in her senior year, and Missouri’s three-point shooting prowess hasn’t been able to compensate for a lack of size when she’s out.

But less than a week ago, Cierra Porter returned from her early medical retirement, giving Missouri a much-needed threat on the inside. And while Arkansas State and Ole Miss aren’t world-beating teams, the Tigers have won two games in a row by 20 or more points - the Tigers opened their SEC slate with a 78-55 win over the Ole Miss Rebels.

Porter, still getting up to game speed, has already impressed the team.

“The thing that caught me off guard a little bit was how good her shot looked,” [Coach Robin] Pingeton said. “I know she was getting shots up with Michael, but I think when you are just getting straight on shots versus shots off screening action it feels different, but she’s been shooting the ball well for us. That’s what has been impressing me the most.”

Porter has scored four points in both of her games back, and she pulled down three rebounds against the Rebels. It may be unfair to expect Porter to be 100 percent down the line, but a player who can take some of the pressure off of Cunningham and Amber Smith would be a massive boon to the team’s chances of getting past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 02 SEC Women’s Tournament - Georgia v Missouri

While Porter gets back to normal, Amber Smith is continuing her role as an undersized forward.

“She was just trying to plug in gaps where we needed her to,” Pingeton said... So far, that’s meant crashing the boards. Missouri lost All-SEC forward Jordan Frericks to graduation, and 6-foot-4 senior Cierra Porter hadn’t played until coming out of medical retirement Sunday. Smith leads the Tigers with 113 rebounds — over 20 percent of the team total.

Smith has arguably been Missouri’s best player on the season so far, at least in the sense of consistent production on both ends of the floor. Having Porter back means Smith will be able to fill gaps in other ways, though it’s hard to argue against her method of success so far.

With Porter back, though, Robin Pingeton’s team will be without excuses come tournament time. Sophie Cunningham is the best player in the history of the program. Amber Smith is also likely a top 10 Tiger all-time by the end of her career, and Cierra Porter is a career 1,000 point scorer. Add in shooters like Lauren Aldridge and Hannah Schuchts and upstart freshmen Grace Berg and Akira Levy, and Missouri is an extremely deep team with a lot of star power. Anything less than a Sweet 16 appearance would seem like something of a disappointment.

More reflection on Missouri Football

The last few days have seen a lot of reflection on the 2018 season in Missouri football, none more so than quarterback Drew Lock.

The growth of the team the last few years, Drew Lock said Monday, was “mind-boggling, really,” and that includes in the quarterback who completed only 49 percent of his passes and threw eight interceptions with just four touchdown passes as a freshman.

Playing with a certain ferocity to rebut skeptics of both him and MU, Lock made sweet strides in his own game that elevated his status from an apparent second-day draft pick to what figures to be a prime selection spot despite throwing fewer touchdown passes than the year before (from 44 to 28) as he finished his MU career with 99.

To be honest, I’m quite fond of pieces like this even though they involve Missouri losses. They’re especially humanizing when written by a master like Vahe Gregorian, who really zeroes in on the family ties that made this a special season for the Lock family. I’ll stop recapping it and let you go read it for yourself.

We’re also seeing final report cards come in across the beat:

  • Alex Schiffer handed out grades for all three units, and he pretty much covered the full spectrum.
  • Over at PowerMizzou, Pro Football Focus released its grades for Missouri’s performance at the Liberty Bowl ($$.)

Yesterday at Rock M

More Links:

  • Over at the official site of Mizzou Athletics, they’re continuing a multi-part profile series on Sophie Cunningham. Thursday’s profile is really something. Give it a look.
  • Dave Matter transcribed his latest Q&A piece, where he takes questions about the rest of the basketball season and what the football team could look like in seven months.
  • Congrats to Kendall Blanton, who officially signed with Priority Sports yesterday.

I was always of the opinion that Blanton was under-utilized while at Missouri, and I think he’s got a solid NFL career ahead of him.

  • It would appear Missouri wide receiver Khmari Thompson is playing two sports in Columbia, just like he did in high school.
  • Finally, Carte’Are Gordon is officially leaving SLU after only a few months as a Billiken.

Missouri was once connected to Gordon in high school, but it would appear Missouri has no interest in getting involved this time around. Listen to the latest episode of Dive Cuts for more!