Missouri senior guard Lindsey Cunningham and sophomore guard Sophie Cunningham know the end is coming.
They just don’t want to think about it.
“Every time we even bring it up, it’s kind of off-limits to talk about,” the Cunninghams’ mother, Paula, said.
The Cunningham sisters have enjoyed playing alongside each other for the last two seasons at Missouri, helping the women’s basketball team surge to prominence in the Southeastern Conference.
The next loss will be the last time they take the court as teammates.
“I need to start slowly thinking about it, but I’ve built this thing up in my mind that I know when it does end it’s going to be really hard,” Lindsey said. “It’s going to take me probably a week or so to really wrap my mind around the idea.”
Obviously, she’s hoping the end won’t come too soon.
The Tigers had gone nine seasons without an NCAA Tournament berth or a 20-win season before the last two springs.
Buoyed by the Cunninghams, Mizzou went 22-10 and won an NCAA tourney game for the first time since 2001 last season.
Now, the sixth-seeded Tigers (21-10) are back in the tourney — opening Friday against No. 11 seed South Florida (24-8) at Florida State’s Tucker Center in Tallahassee, Fla. — and aiming for an NCAA victory in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history.
“I’m really not thinking about the end, and I won’t think about it anytime that we play,” said Sophie, a first-team All-SEC performer. “I’ll probably think about it when the final buzzer does go, but right now I am just excited to keep playing with her. It's been a really fun ride, not only for us but our entire family.”
Mizzou coach Robin Pingeton understands all good things must end, but she’s convinced the Cunninghams have no regrets.
“They have maximized their time together and enjoyed the heck out of the journey,” Pingeton said. “That’s really cool. When you know that you embraced every moment and every season and every game and every week and every practice, I think it feels different than if you look back and had regrets.”
It also helps that Lindsey will remain with the program for the next two years as a graduate assistant.
“She’s going to be done playing, which will be hard on both of us, but she’s still going to be here …,” Sophie said. “Even though she won’t be on the court, she will still be a part of the journey of my college career. That’s so important, because she’s my sidekick.”
Lindsey’s excited too but acknowledges the transition might be rough on her.
“Sometimes, I wonder if it’s going to make it easier or harder being around it every day and not actually getting to play, but I’m excited to still be around the sport and these people,” Lindsey said. “Getting to be around for Soph’s last two years will be really special.”
It would be even more special if Mizzou could make an extended tourney run and forestall the inevitable as long as possible.
“That would be great, and I think it’s possible,” Lindsey said. “It’s March and anything can happen. Now is the time to go on a run, if we’re going to.”
The Tigers’ other sister duo, sophomore forward Cierra Porter and junior forward Bri Porter, hoped for two more seasons of on-court memories.
Those dreams ended when Bri suffered the fifth ACL tear of her career before the season, which prematurely ended her playing days.
“I know it’s God’s plan for our life, so I don’t necessarily feel like I’ve been robbed, but I would definitely love to be able to play on the court with my sister again,” Cierra said. “I get to wear her number, so there’s something, and I think about it every time I put that jersey on. The chance to go out there and do things I know she wishes she could be doing, I try not to take it for granted.”
Porter hopes and believes that’s what the Cunninghams are doing as Lindsey’s career winds to a close.
“They just need to enjoy it,” Cierra said. “This is such a blessing for them and a great opportunity. Not many people get to play with their siblings on such a big stage. I just hope they soak it all in and have fun.”