The Missouri Tigers (9-5, 0-1 SEC) looked to get a needed first win in conference play over the Alabama Crimson Tide (13-3, 0-1 SEC) in their first home conference game of the season. Alabama rode a dominant second half to a 79-64 victory over the tumbling Tigers.
The early going was a complete offensive onslaught on both sides of the court, as the two teams combined for 51 points in the first quarter, the second most points combined in any quarter that Missouri has played in all season, behind the 57 points accumulated in the fourth quarter of the Tigers’ loss to St. Louis earlier in the season.
Sarah Ashlee Barker has emerged as a threat for the Crimson Tide this season, and her presence was known in the first frame, as her 12 points in the first quarter powered Alabama to an electric 11-15 from the field and 5-8 from beyond the arc.
Even with those staggering numbers, Missouri found themselves down just five after one quarter, as they responded with a well-rounded attack which saw four players rack up three or more points en route to a 28-23 Alabama lead after one.
In basketball, seldom do teams shoot hot throughout an entire game, but Alabama rose up to 8-11 (72.7%) from the three-point line midway through the second quarter. The one silver lining was that the Tigers were still only down five despite that, and they knew if they could limit Alabama’s hot start that they could add a needed tally to the SEC win column.
Grace Slaughter once again showed her veteran-like poise early in this matchup, tying Hayley Frank with nine points with 3:33 left in the first half and keeping the Tigers within striking distance of the Tide as their shooting luck widdled down.
An 8-0 run that was characterized by opportunistic and clinical moves in transition from the Tigers and suffocating defense that held the Tide field goal-less for over three minutes, put both teams knotted up at 39 with 1:26 left in the first half.
Mama Dembele did what she does best in the first half, as her emergence as a scoring threat this season has opened countless possibilities as far as what she can do as a distributor in Head Coach Robin Pingeton’s offense. At halftime, Dembele had already racked up 10 points and five assists, looking poised for yet another double-double.
Despite what seemed like a good first half, on the postgame radio show, Pingeton didn’t mince words about the team or their performance. She called out her team on their lack of toughness early on, saying Alabama was just a touch faster and ready to go and if they didn’t realize it was SEC play they would find themselves on the losing end of battles. She further called out the effort, stating quite plainly, “We practiced harder than I saw in the game tonight.”
The story of the Missouri Tigers season has been struggles in the third quarter, as all three of their losses to Power 5 teams this season have seen them dominated in the third frame. Missouri has been outscored in the third quarter in those games 95-42.
Those struggles looked to be continued as the Tigers began the quarter by conceding a 13-2 run to Alabama, as all that work Missouri put in to get back into the game had been wasted in a span of just five minutes.
Alabama’s defense in the third quarter was suffocating, and they managed to clog up passing lanes, forcing errant passes from Missouri all quarter and not giving them nearly as many easy looks as they got in the first half. Adjustments at halftime are what defined this game, and Alabama just was the better team in that aspect (and it wasn’t particularly close).
19-6 in favor of Alabama was the final margin in the third quarter, marking yet another third frame where the Tigers got dominated, contributing to a 60-47 Alabama lead with just one quarter to go.
Abbey Schreacke opened up the fourth quarter on the perfect note, as she drained a triple and brought the lead back to within 10, as the other Abby, Abby Feit, knocked down a tough shot inside to put the lead back to just single digits.
Dembele continued to generate turnovers as Missouri started the fourth on a 7-0 run, but Alabama did what they had been doing all night long, answering. However, Missouri continued to be vigilant and opportunistic, keeping the game within striking distance until the final whistle.
The game got as close to 69-64, but a dagger three from Aaliyah Nye made it 72-64 with 2:21 left. Nye picked up 23 points in the tilt shooting 7-14 from three-point range.
Disaster struck for Missouri though, as emerging star Mama Dembele went down with an apparent knee injury, turning what had become a lively Mizzou Arena dead silent. Dembele was helped off the court in tears as she was unable to put any weight on her right leg, obviously not boding well for her availability the rest of the season and delivering a huge blow to Missouri’s tournament hopes.
The injury not only dealt a significant blow to Missouri from a team standpoint — it took out yet another point guard; that’s three down so far — it did a number to the team as far as their confidence to claw back into the game.
Alabama would finish the game on a 10-0 run, as they comfortably emerged victorious 79-64. The Tide shot 28-58 from the field but more notably shot 15-30 from three-point range, while the Tigers shot 25-53 from the field while shooting just 5-20 from beyond the arc. Rebounding was even at 30 apiece for both sides, while Alabama got the edge in turnovers, 12 to Mizzou’s 16.
The loss drops Missouri to 9-6 on the season and 0-2 in SEC play, and with Dembele likely out for an extended period of time (there were no updates post-game), this team is going to need to dig very deep if they want to have some chance at the postseason.
UP NEXT: Missouri takes on No. 1 South Carolina at home on Thursday, January 11th at 7 PM CST.