In a battle of Tigers, Mizzou women’s basketball (11-13, 2-9) got out-clawed.
After a desolate first two quarters, Mizzou’s pink jerseys were shining a little brighter amidst a third quarter comeback, only to lose momentum in the fourth. Auburn (15-8, 3-7 SEC) walked out of Mizzou Arena with a 70-59 victory.
The opening five minutes saw the game ball completely despise Mizzou. It felt like the game ball got woken up too early on Sunday and chose to bounce every way Mizzou didn’t want it to bounce. Ashton Judd was called for a travel seven seconds into the game, which she followed up with a missed three-pointer and a lost ball out of bounds. Grace Slaughter then missed an open layup, which was followed by two open three-point misses from Abby Feit. Judd couldn’t get a contested layup to fall, then missed an open second-chance three-pointer.
Mama Dembele finally broke the ice with a swish from downtown with 5:55 left...which she immediately followed with a missed open layup. All the while, Auburn made four of their first five shots from the field.
The home Tigers were in the Valentine’s Day spirit early on, as they shot 2/14 from the field to start. Although Abbey Schreacke nailed a three-pointer the second I started typing this, that was the last basket Mizzou would score in the frame, as they trailed 16-8 after the first 10 minutes.
“I thought our slow start really hurt us,” head coach Robin Pingeton said.
The second quarter didn’t start much better, as another Judd miss around the basket was followed up by a corner three-pointer from McKenna Eddings.
Auburn continued finding success inside the arc, as they would score their next nine points from either two-point range or at the free throw line.
On the other end, Mizzou looked slightly better on offense. They generated a few good looks at the rim off of backdoor cuts, and after they started 2/14, they made six of their next 12 shots from the field. However, they still had trouble freeing themselves up on the perimeter, and they turned the ball over six times for a total of 12 in the first half. Auburn didn’t have nearly the same shooting success as they did in the first quarter, but the basket-trading was fine with them, as they led 33-21 at halftime.
“This is what Auburn does. This is what they hang their hat on. They do it to everybody,” Pingeton said (Auburn was a top-25 team nationally in turnovers forced per game entering Sunday). “They defend so hard...they play the passing lanes, sometimes they switch, sometimes they chase, and they just take advantage of any time you exhale.”
The third quarter saw Mizzou unexpectedly exorcise the third quarter demons that’d plagued them in several previous games. Their effort in the first half (and this entire season, really) was never in question; they just couldn’t create and convert open shots...until the start of the third. After starting 0/8 from the field and 0/5 from three, Judd swished a right corner three-pointer.
Something notable about the shot was that Judd let it go the exact same way she did on her first attempt; smooth and with the utmost confidence. That carried over into her next attempt, when she knocked down another three-pointer.
“Dwelling on past shots and past plays doesn’t really get you anywhere,” Judd said.
Sandwiched in-between the two makes were two more Mizzou baskets; a top-of-the-key triple from Dembele and a sweet step-through by Slaughter. When Judd’s three rattled home, the home Tigers had pulled within six.
For the middle part of the quarter, the two teams traded baskets. Honesty Scott-Grayson extended the Auburn lead to as much as nine with five straight points, but that was as far ahead as they got, as Mizzou kept gaining ground in the final three minutes of the frame.
From the 3:04 mark until the end of the quarter, Missouri went on a 9-1 run to tie the game at 48. The run included an and-one layup from Judd, a pair of threes from Slaughter and Schreacke and two charges taken, one by Dembele and the other by Hannah Linthacum.
Scott-Grayson scored another five straight points to end the quarter, bringing her total to 20 through 30 minutes. However, Auburn led by just five entering the final frame.
“I think they had some really good conversations at halftime,” Pingeton said. “I think they do a good job of challenging each other and supporting each other.”
It was then that Auburn regained control. They opened the fourth quarter with consecutive three-pointers, which was followed by two free throws and a layup from Scott-Grayson to put Auburn up by 15 with 6:35 left.
For Mizzou, its shooting and ball security deserted them late. They ended the game shooting 3/11 from the field. MU also turned the ball over seven times in the final 10 minutes to bring their total to 22, their most in a game since they recorded 23 against North Alabama on Nov. 14.
Auburn kept up the hot shooting as well as efficient transition play throughout the whole quarter. When the final buzzer sounded amidst a quiet Mizzou Arena, the final score read Auburn 70, Mizzou 59.
Dembele led Mizzou with 15 points. She also recorded 11 rebounds and 11 assists for the first MU triple-double since Christine Flores against Eastern Illinois on Dec. 7, 2011. However, Dembele seemed to care about the team over her individual accomplishments after the game.
“I don’t really care because we didn’t win,” Dembele said after the game. “I took responsibility in the first quarter and the first half because I didn’t set the tone as a leader...as for the triple-double, I guess happy. I like to get my teammates open, and sometimes, that gives me an open lane, and I’ll take whatever the defense is giving me.”
Following her in scoring was Judd (14), Slaughter (12) and Schreacke (11).
On the other side. Scott-Grayson led the way for Auburn. The Brick, NJ native was putting up anything but bricks, as Auburn’s leading scorer finished with 24 points on 8/13 shooting.
The Tigers won’t be back in action until next Sunday, when they travel to Fayetteville for round two with Arkansas (17-8, 5-5 SEC) at 4 p.m. CT.