The Missouri Tigers (9-7, 0-3 SEC) looked to bounce back after three-straight conference losses, against a Vanderbilt Commodore (16-1, 3-0 SEC) team that came in on a nine-game winning streak with their only loss on the season to No. 6 NC State back in late November.
Prior to this matchup, Vanderbilt came in having not beaten Missouri since 2015-16 when the Commodores upset the No. 24 Missouri Tigers led by a young Sophie Cunningham. However, if the odds were ever in the Commodores’ favor it was going to be this year, as they were not only hosting the Tigers, but they came in hot while the Tigers came in cold.
The headline going into the game, was the shocking reappearance of star guard Mama Dembele for Missouri, as she had suffered what looked to be a devastating knee injury against Alabama. However, reports came in that there was no structural damage to her knee, and miraculously Dembele only missed one game.
Mizzou set the tone early with a three-point shot on the first possession from veteran Hayley Frank, to which Vanderbilt quickly answered with a 6-0 run, establishing a lead that they would consistently hold for the majority of the first half.
Missouri’s usual plague is the turnover margin, but in the first half of this bout they excelled in that category, only succumbing four turnovers compared to Vanderbilt’s six. The turnover margin was a large reason why Missouri was able to keep it close at halftime, with the Commodores only boasting a 29-24 lead.
Vanderbilt’s lead could be attributed to domination on the boards, as they held a 25-15 advantage on the glass at halftime. It has to be mentioned that Missouri’s lone sizable big, UMass transfer Angelique Ngalakulondi, has been out for a majority of the season with an injury and this creates a massive disadvantage for the Tigers on the boards.
Vanderbilt came into the game 13-0 when leading at the half, so it was clear that Missouri was going to need a stellar second half performance to win this game. That type of performance has been absent in most of Missouri’s losses, and they have been on the receiving end of domination, especially in the third quarter, in their losses this season.
It was a rough start for Dembele in this game, as she continued to try to re-acclimate to being on the court, shooting 1-7 to begin the game.
A developing story over the course of the game was Missouri’s lack of prowess at the charity stripe, as the Commodores started 7-7 from the line while the Tigers were an abysmal 2-6.
Frank continued to be an absolute force who kept Missouri in this game, as she started the game 4-7 from beyond the arc while the rest of the team was shooting 1-8 at the same point.
Jordyn Cambridge continued to be an X-factor for Vanderbilt as she had been all season, as she led the Commodores in scoring in the first half with nine points. However, just before the halfway mark of the third quarter, Cambridge picked up her third foul marking a crucial period for Missouri to claw back against a 41-29 Vanderbilt lead with her on the bench.
The offensive rebounding issues continued to rise for Missouri, as Vanderbilt finished the third quarter leading 10-1 on the offensive glass and dominating the second chance points game. Despite that, the Tigers were able to stay within striking distance of the Commodores, being down 52-44 after three quarters, thanks to good basketball from Abby Feit on the offensive end.
Ashton Judd was a dominant force on the inside for the Tigers throughout the game, as she upped her tally to 15 points early in the fourth quarter, while Frank drained a three to bring the Tigers back to within three of the Commodores’ once-dominant lead.
Judd later tied the game with just under six minutes to go, stunning the home crowd in Nashville. Opportunistic plays in transition and amazing defense contributed to more fruitful results for Missouri, as Dembele secured another steal for an easy layup to put the Tigers up 55-53 and in position to hand the Commodores their first loss after leading at the half this season.
Of Missouri’s 55 points at that point, Judd and Frank had combined for 34 of them, with Frank being a lethal kickout option and Judd being just as lethal inside the paint. A three from Feit boosted Missouri’s fourth quarter advantage to a stunning 14-3, as tight defense in the paint was a catalyst for Vandy’s lack of offensive scoring ability down the stretch.
Jordyn Oliver tied the game at 58 apiece with just 3:30 remaining in the game, setting the stage for a nailbiting final stage for both teams. As per usual though, when the nerves and the pressure seemed highest, it was the freshman who prevailed. Grace Slaughter drained a three-pointer from the corner and then executed a beautiful drive to the basket on the ensuing possession to put the Tigers up 63-58 with 2:27 left.
Judd hit an absolute dagger at the shot-clock buzzer to go up 65-60, and they followed it up with forcing a turnover then succumbing to a turnover. Missouri got the ball back with just over a minute left, with a chance to seal the game and pick up their first conference win of the season.
Feit traveled with 15.2 seconds left, giving Vanderbilt a chance to win the game down 65-63 with the final possession in hand. A huge defensive possession from Missouri forced an Iyana Moore turnover as she was forced out of bounds, giving Missouri a chance to finally seal this game and pick up a classic, potentially job-saving victory for Head Coach Robin Pingeton.
In an insane turn, after Vanderbilt got down to their last foul to give, Dembele turned it over on an inbounds play on a savvy Vandy steal, giving the Commodores a clear run at the bucket that they miraculously missed. Ballgame.
“It was an unbelievable team effort,” Frank said. “Just a huge credit to our toughness, really proud of the girls today.”
The win capped off a beautiful second half from the Tigers, in which they shot a staggering 62% from the field. Missouri finished the game shooting 25-55 from the field, whilst Vandy shot 22-58. Vandy dominated the free throw line, shooting 13-18 while Missouri shot 6-11, but the real story was the boards.
The Commodores outrebounded the Tigers 13-1 on the offensive glass and 44-28 overall, proving that this team can win if they just get hot at the right time. This is an absolutely crucial victory for this team, and a huge momentum builder for SEC Play.
UP NEXT: Missouri takes on Georgia at home on Thursday, January 18th at 7 PM CST.