The Missouri Tigers lost a close one to the Tennessee Lady Volunteers, 68-65, as they moved to four-straight losses and fell under .500 in SEC-play.
The good news for the Tigers pregame was star guard Jordana Horston did not make the trip to Mizzou Arena, leaving the Lady Vols without one of their top scorers. However, there was bad news for the Tigers too, as they were without the services of both Mama Dembele and Sara-Rose Smith who were on the Tiger bench, but wearing masks. Dembele’s absence would have helped down the stretch and perhaps kept Missouri from making some costly errors.
Rickea Jackson was the danger-woman for Tennessee and she proved why early, knocking down a three on the first possession of the game and tallying seven points in the first five minutes. For Missouri, Jayla Kelly started off hot, picking up four points and drew a foul on Jackson in the same timeframe, keeping Mizzou in it, down 11-6. The Tigers went on a mini-run after finding themselves down 10, after a Hayley Frank and-one was followed by an Ashton Judd three. The Lady Vols quickly responded with a 7-0 run of their own though to remain in command of the game. After one quarter, the Vols would find themselves up 23-14.
Missouri opened up the second quarter on a 5-0 run thanks to buckets from Kelly and Lauren Hansen, cutting the lead down to four again. But for every time the Tigers got it close, Tennessee seemed to have an answer. And while the Tigers never let the Lady Vols pull away going into the half, they also never took the lead and got the necessary stops.
Big for the the Lady Vols in the first half was Karoline Striplin, who typically averages 4.8 points per game. She had eight points in the first half and proved to be a lot for Kelly to handle in the post. After Rickea Jackson’s hot start of seven points in the first quarter, she was held scoreless in the second quarter. She was also relatively cooled down in the third quarter until the end where she started to heat up. After Rickea Jackson’s hot start , she was held scoreless in the second quarter. At the half, the Tigers were down 33-27 to Tennessee, a very surmountable deficit to take into the locker room.
The Tigers picked up where they left off in the second half, racing to a 10-2 run to open it, giving them their first lead. Frank and Kelly were the main contributors to it, accounting for 25 of Missouri’s 37 points. This was especially welcome of Frank, who had long droughts of subpar play in the first half. Kelly not only continued to contribute on the offensive end, but in rebounding as well, almost notching a double-double.
The runs continued as the Tigers extended their lead to four, their largest of the game as Tennessee was forced to take multiple timeouts to regroup. Haley Troup proved to be a very valuable asset on the defensive end, picking up steals on consecutive possessions. Along with stellar defensive play, the Tigers were not plagued with their usual turnovers, and only had four with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Jackson heating up towards the end of the third coincided with a Lady Vol 7-0 run that brought them back tied up with the Tigers after being down 47-40. Some really woeful foul calls put Tennessee at the free-throw line, extending their run to 11-0 and giving them a four point lead. Despite having many opportunities at the line — the officiating in this one was extremely suspect, even leading to a Robin Pingeton tech — and Tennessee shot 6-10 from the charity strike going into the final quarter up 51-47.
In the fourth, a three-point play by Averi Kroenke and a three from Frank re-tied the game at 53 with just over eight minutes to play. Frank at this point had already tallied 20 points, a huge bounce-back game from her, as she had failed to cumulatively score that many points in the last couple games total.
On the next possession, Frank found Kelly for a beautiful backdoor feed, and thus reclaimed the Tiger lead. Frank found Kelly again on the next possession, putting Kelly at 14 points in the game.
The Tigers and Lady Vols continued to trade buckets possession after possession in what was a complete nail-biter for Missouri fans. Kroenke, having for sure the best game of her young career, really picked it up in the second half, scoring seven points. Even bigger than the points though was her impact on the defensive end, as she nabbed FIVE steals..
“I’ve been liking a lot of what I have seen from Averi,” Head Coach Robin Pingeton said. “Defensively she can cover a lot of ground and she rebounds really well for a guard, and she had her best game in a Mizzou uniform today.”
A three from Frank, her 23rd point of the game, gave the Tigers a 62-58 lead with 2:28 left in the game, putting a lot of pressure on the Lady Vols to match the Tigers’ intensity.
Another Frank three sent Mizzou Arena into a frenzy, as it extended the lead to 65-60 with just over a minute to go. Frank then took a huge charge, giving the Tigers the possession and full control of the game. Or so they thought… A weird turnover from Hansen on the inbounds play gave the Lady Vols a quick bucket, and then an iffy jump ball call gave the Tennessee the ball with a chance to tie it up with 42 seconds left.
A clear as day missed carry on Rickea Jackson was not called on the following possession, which led to a Puckett banked-in three pointer, and just like that, the game was tied with 39.2 seconds left. That huge bucket was Puckett’s 17th in the game and she came up big when her team needed her. With the game on the line, the Tigers’ next possession was crucial.
“It was a situation where we got caught over-helping down low,” Pingeton said. “We just left her open a little bit and she, of course, banked in the three.”
A failed offensive possession ensued for the Tigers, which meant Tennessee had possession of the ball with the game knotted up and 10 seconds left with a chance to win it. Rickea Jackson fought in an and-one on Averi Kroenke with 1.1 seconds left to give the Lady Vols a shocking lead. Lauren Hansen just missed a three-pointer to tie the game at the buzzer, and the Lady Vols held on to win it 68-65.
“It takes a while to get over a loss like this,” Pingeton said. “We are all sick to our stomachs right now.”
As far as what went wrong for Missouri in this one? Some pretty bad turnovers late in the game when the game was on the line kinda of took them out of themselves, but realistically speaking, some terrible missed calls from the referees made a pretty big difference. Nonetheless, the loss marked Missouri’s fourth straight loss in SEC play and takes them to 3-4 in SEC play.
Hayley Frank finished 9-16 shooting and shot 5-9 from beyond the arc, as she finished with 26 points. Jayla Kelly finished shooting 7-9 from the field and finished just one rebound short of her first career double-double.
“Even when I am missing shots, my confidence never waivers,” Frank said. “It all came down to my teammates being willing to set screens for me to get me open.”