After a series of precarious runs in the first half to keep the game within striking distance, the Missouri Tigers came out of the locker in the second hall gunning for their first lead of the game. After Haley Troup fed Jayla Kelly for a pick and roll layup, two key defensive stops on the other side of the floor led to back-to-back three pointers from Hayley Frank.
With the crowd on its feet and rallying for a run, Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper had no choice but to use a timeout a minute and a half into the third quarter to let the dust settle. The timeout proved effective, as Missouri (14-7, 3-4 SEC) suffered a 68-65 loss despite what could be considered a bounce-back performance in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Tennessee (16-6, 8-0) extended its own winning streak to ten games, continuing its dominance in SEC play.
Facing a team vying for top-25 consideration and in the middle of a nine-game winning streak, the Tigers had their hands full. To make matters worse, the Tigers entered the game as one of SEC’s least dominant rebounding teams.
Rising up to the challenge, Jayla Kelly provided a jolt of much-needed scrap on both sides of the ball in a career game.
“I felt like I was really trying to let the game come to me as far as not rushing, not forcing shots,” Kelly said. “I’ve been talking about being more aggressive with rebounding, so being intentional with that and getting as many as I could.”
The junior out of Chesterfield, Missouri ended with 14 points and 9 rebounds, including five offensive rebounds in what ended as a standout performance for the Tigers on the glass.
Tennessee shot 53.6% in the first half, including 2-6 from deep. Tennessee’s leading scorer Rickea Jackson shared the scoring load with Karol Striplin and Sara Puckett, with the trio combining for 22 points in the first half. Puckett finished with 17 points (7-9 shooting), while Jackson added 15 (6-11), including the game-winning layup with 1.1 seconds remaining.
“She [Jackson] is a very very talented player, but I thought for the most part, defensively we did what we needed to do,” Pingeton said of Missouri’s defense. “I mean we had some breakdowns in some possessions and missed a couple key box outs that are just going to linger, but overall we did a really nice job.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers relied heavily upon Kelly to provide the offensive muscle needed to stay in the game, as she dominated the paint with eight points on 4-6 shooting. Missouri shot 30.3% from the field and just 18.2% from long range, yet only trailed by six heading into the second half.
“I liked the pace we were playing at in that first half,” Pingeton said. “You just felt like it was going to be okay because we were playing with good pace, I thought we had good ball movement and we had good looks, they just weren’t falling for us.”
In spite of the relatively poor first-half shooting splits, the Tigers did a tremendous job of beating Tennessee at the Vols’ weak points. They frequently came back by hacking apart Tennessee leads with timely steals and offensive rebounds, earning extra possessions and momentum-changing buckets as a result.
Though they cooled off in the second half, the Vols finished 28-58 from the field, relying on a solid offensive attack to find the soft spots in the Tigers’ zone defense and attacking those spots of the dribble and off the pass.
MU relied heavily on Hayley Frank’s season-high 26 points down the stretch, carried by her 19 second-half points to bring the game back into the balance. Frank also drew two key offensive fouls in the fourth and brought down two offensive rebounds, helping the Tigers in obtaining a lead halfway through the fourth quarter.
“I thought my teammates were really willing screeners and trying to get me open looks and hitting me at the right times, so a big credit to them,” Frank said. “Even when I was missing shots my confidence didn’t waver.”
But in the final two minutes, the Tigers failed to contain the Tennessee offense and gave away a couple key plays to lose hold of the game and end up with the loss. After a pair of offensive rebounds, a key turnover in the final minute leading to a layup and a defensive breakdown to allow a game-tying three, Tennessee completely erased Missouri’s advantage.
“We didn’t have the sense of urgency that you need to have at the end of the game. It was a tough few minutes there.” Robin Pingeton
Missouri continues its SEC campaign on the road at Georgia on Thursday and at Kentucky on Sunday, hoping to build on a tough loss to snap its four-game losing streak.
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