Missouri’s bid for its first SEC women’s basketball tournament victory was hindered by a lack of inside scoring, an aggressive Auburn defense and way too many turnovers.
Still, it wasn’t until Cierra Porter’s layup bounced on the rim twice and caromed off as the clock expired Thursday afternoon that Missouri’s Tigers again came up empty at the tournament, falling to Auburn’s Tigers 47-45 at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
It was frustrating in many ways. Missouri, 21-9, which has been in the league for four years and not had a conference postseason win, committed 20 turnovers against Auburn’s pressing defense. Mizzou grabbed the advantage early in every quarter against Auburn, 19-11, only to falter late as the leads were swapped 15 times.
Missouri managed only 12 points in the paint, with coach Robin Pingeton saying Missouri’s early success from three-point range may have contributed to the lack of inside points. Twenty-four of Missouri’s first 34 points came from behind the arc and only 12 of the team’s 43 field-goal attempts were in the lane.
“We hit some shots early on the perimeter and sort of became a doughnut,” Pingeton said. “We didn’t punch it inside the way we needed to.”
That benefited Auburn, which grabbed the lead for good with 2:44 left as Tra’Cee Tanner maneuvered inside for a basket and a 45-43 lead.
Missouri had a chance near the end of the game to at least tie. Sophie Cunningham drove the lane, but her pass to Jordan Frericks was tipped out of bounds by Auburn with 2.8 seconds left. After each team called a timeout, Lindsey Cunningham inbounded to Porter, who laid the ball up.
But it bounced out, the buzzer sounded and Auburn celebrated moving on to Friday’s quarterfinals to face top-seed South Carolina.
While Auburn contines playing, Missouri waits. Pingeton described the next 11 days as “miserable,” as the team waits until the NCAA Tournament selections are announced.
After three successive WNIT trips, the players hope to take the next step.
“It would be a big deal for me, but we’re not going to say it’s a for-sure thing,” said senior guard Morgan Stock, who led all scorers with 17 points, with 15 from beyond the arc. “So I’m not going to get my hopes up.”
The résumé has victories over currently ranked teams Mississippi State and Florida. But, with a 41 RPI ranking entering Thursday and three consecutive defeats, nothing is guaranteed.
“We’re going to have to exhale a little bit,” Pingeton said. “We’re going to take a couple of days to regroup, and hopefully we’ll be in a good situation on Selection Monday.”
Pingeton said her team will take time to correct the turnover issues and get her team back on track. She will try to get her team to where it was 11 days ago, when it claimed its last victory — against Auburn.
This time, Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said she didn’t have her team get overly concerned with the SEC’s top three-point shooting team, Mizzou.
“This is going to sound really crazy, but we weren’t focused on stopping the three-point shooting,” Williams-Flournoy said. “That wasn’t our focus. It’s a team that shoots the three. That’s what they do. You might slow it down, maybe, but you’re not going to stop it. It’s like people coming in and playing us, against our defense, and saying they’re not going to turn the ball over. Yes, you are. Because that’s what we do.”
SEC women’s basketball tournament
At Jacksonville, Fla.; all times Central
Wednesday’s first round
(13) LSU 58, (12) Alabama 49
(11) Vanderbilt 74, (14) Mississippi 59
Thursday’s second round
(9) Auburn 47, (8) Missouri 45
(13) LSU vs. (5) Kentucky, 1:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
(10) Arkansas vs. (7) Tennessee, 5 p.m. (SEC Network)
(11) Vanderbilt vs. (6) Georgia 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
(9) Auburn vs. (1) South Carolina, 11 a.m. (SEC Network)
LSU-Kentucky winner vs. (4) Florida, 1:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Arkansas-Tennesse winner vs. (2) Texas A&M, 5 p.m. (SEC Network)
Vanderbilt-Georgia winner vs. (3) Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
First two quarterfinal winners, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
First two quarterfinal winners, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Semifinal winners, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)