Tennessee proved too much for previously undefeated Missouri on Monday in the first women’s basketball game between ranked teams in Columbia in nearly 31 years.
Opening SEC play against the 12th-ranked Volunteers, the 20th-ranked Tigers struggled from the field in a 71-55 loss at Mizzou Arena. They finished a season-worst 32.8 percent, going 21 of 64 overall.
“Tough game for us tonight,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “Tennessee is obviously a very talented team. I thought they came out as the aggressors. They kind of threw the first punch and we took it. I felt like we got outplayed in pretty much every phase of the game.”
The Tigers, 13-1 and 0-1 in the SEC, hadn’t scored fewer than 57 points in any game this season, but the nonconference slate only featured one Power Five team — Colorado.
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A traditional national power, Tennessee, 10-3 and 1-0 in the SEC, took control in the third quarter, outscoring Missouri 20-11 in building upon a seven-point halftime lead.
Junior Diamond DeShields, who briefly left the game in the fourth quarter after taking an inadvertent shot to the eye that left her squinting through a shiner after the game, led the way with six third-quarter points.
She was one of three Tennessee players in double figures, and finished with 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Coach Holly Warlick said Tennessee chose not to help on defense in an effort to stymie Missouri’s three-point prowess, preferring to give up some points in the paint rather than get burned from long range.
The Tigers were led by junior Jordan Frericks, who had 11 points and eight rebounds but only shot 3 from 10 from the field.
Freshman Sophie Cunningham added eight points on 4 of 10 shooting and had six rebounds, and junior Sierra Michaelis scored 10 points on 4 of 14 shooting.
Missouri only went 2 of 21 from three-point range, a season-low for both three-pointers made and three-point shooting percentage (9.5 percent), and committed 14 turnovers.
“Our press, keeping them in the front court for so long, when they did cross halfcourt, they didn’t have a lot of time to set up their offense,” DeShields said.
The last time ranked teams met for a women’s basketball game in Columbia, No. 12 Missouri knocked off No. 10 Kansas State 66-62 in a Big Eight battle on Feb. 8, 1984, at the Hearnes Center.
“I do believe we’re a top-25 team, and I think we can play with those teams,” Pingeton said. “I think there’s a learning curve and we need to make some adjustments, but I feel really good about our team and think we can compete at a really high level. I think you’ll see that as we go throughout the SEC schedule this year.”
Missouri missed its first eight three-pointers and struggled to solve Tennessee’s full-court trap in falling behind by as many as 13 in the second half.
The worm turned when junior Lianna Doty dropped in a three-pointer from the right wing with 3:25 remaining, the only one Missouri made among 10 first-half tries.
Doty’s three energized the record crowd of 7,989 at Mizzou Arena and reinvigorated the Tigers, who drew as close as 31-26, with Cunningham adding two buckets during a 9-1 run.
“We’re building; we’re growing,” Pingeton said. “We’re not where we want to be, but we’re certainly not where we used to be. … This is a bump in the road. It’s not fun, but I think we’re going to learn because of it.”
The crowd, which finished the night with a standing ovation, was the fourth-largest for a women’s basketball home game in Missouri history and the largest since moving to Mizzou Arena in 2004.