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Rocky topped: Mizzou women’s basketball falls to Tennessee for fourth straight loss

The defeat drops the Tigers to 11-11 on the season.

Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation

Without Hayley Frank, the climb to the summit of Rocky Top became even harder for Mizzou women’s basketball (11-11, 2-7 SEC) on Sunday.

By game’s end, the journey proved to be too difficult, as Tennessee (14-7, 7-2 SEC) blazed past the Tigers 80-69 behind a proficient offensive performance.

“I’m proud of our players. I thought we really battled,” head coach Robin Pingeton said after the game. “Tennessee threw the first punch, and it would have been easy to just kind of lay down, but we found a way to battle back, and we made a game out of it.”

Like Pingeton alluded to in her opening statement, the tone was set on the first possession of the game. Tennessee won the tip, and Rickea Jackson immediately got a low post touch, as she was being guarded by the smaller Abby Feit. Jackson converted an easy layup.

However, Mizzou started hot offensively as well. Mama Dembele was getting downhill early and often, as she converted a couple of layups off the dribble. She also found Abby Feit on the right wing for a kick out three-pointer. Combined with some solid drives from Ashton Judd and Grace Slaughter, Mizzou had 13 points by the first media timeout.

The only issue was that the Vols were powder blue hot themselves, especially from downtown. Jewel Spear and Sara Puckett, two of Tennessee’s best perimeter shooters, shot a combined 5/8 from three in the first quarter. Despite Dembele continuing to slash and dash through UT’s defense — she converted another two layups — Tennessee continuously responded on the other end, as the Vols led 28-17 at the end of the opening frame.

“When you have a team that plays inside-out, I think that makes it really, really hard to guard {them},” Pingeton said.

The second quarter was a continuation of the first, as both teams remained in a groove offensively. Mizzou started finding a rhythm from three, which included two triples from Judd in the opening minutes.

On the other end, the Tigers still had no answer for Jackson down low. Even when they sent an extra defender upon a Jackson paint touch, something good usually happened for Tennessee. By the end of the quarter Jackson was up to 19 points on 8/10 shooting, which included her passing the 2,000-point mark for her career.

Despite putting together a solid offensive half, Mizzou still found themselves down 46-34 at halftime.

“There’s so much talent on this team, and yet they continue to be so unselfish,” Pingeton said of Tennessee. “Especially in that first half, I thought Tennessee did a really good job of making the adjustments offensively and knocking down shots, even if they were tough, contested shots.”

One stat to note from the first half: Tennessee didn’t commit a single turnover, while Mizzou committed seven.

The third quarter saw the Tigers continue to fight. Although they were held scoreless for almost four minutes to start the frame (that was until Feit hit a right corner three), Mizzou finally started to make up ground on Tennessee. The Tigers went on a 12-0 run in the middle of the corner to shrink UT’s lead to three, which included seven points from Slaughter in less than two and a half minutes.

Unfortunately for Mizzou, the good times wouldn’t last. Immediately after Tennessee called a timeout to stop the bleeding, Puckett knocked down a three, which was quickly followed by an and-one layup from Jasmine Powell. On their next offensive possession, Spear converted a left-handed layup, then drilled a three-pointer to almost erase Mizzou’s scoring run from minutes earlier. Tennessee led 63-49 at the end of the third.

The fourth quarter saw the Vols pull away for good. UT kept finding success in the paint, while the Tigers were unable to put together the massive scoring run required to make up the deficit they found themselves in to start the quarter. Although the Tigers outscored the Vols 20-17 in the final frame (including nine points from Hilke Feldrappe), when the final buzzer sounded, the score read Tennessee 80, Mizzou 69.

Dembele led the Tigers in scoring with 18 and, with three assists, became the fourth Tiger to surpass 4,000 career assists.

“I thought she was an incredible leader for us,” Pingeton said. “We talked about the importance of that before the game knowing that she’s got a young roster that leadership was going to be really important for us shorthanded without Frankie {Hayley Frank} out there. That leadership piece was going to be really important for our freshman. I thought she did a great job, starting with her leadership but also being aggressive offensively.”

Slaughter registered 14 points, followed by Judd with 12 and Feldrappe with 11.

For Tennessee, Spear led the Vols with 22 points, followed by Jackson with 19 and Puckett with 15. After a ringer of a non-conference schedule that saw the Vols sitting at 4-5 in early December, they’ve gone 9-2 since then and, with Ole Miss’ loss to South Carolina today, sit alone in second place in the SEC.

The Tigers will stay on the road for their next game, as they’ll head to the Columbia of the east for round two with the aforementioned top-ranked Gamecocks (20-0) on Thursday at 7 p.m.