Kulas' big effort helps Missouri women's basketball beat Gamecocks

Thursday, February 28, 2013 | 11:06 p.m. CST; updated 11:30 a.m. CST, Friday, March 1, 2013
Missouri forward Bri Kulas shoots over South Carolina forward Ashley Bruner Thursday at Mizzou Arena. Kulas scored a season high of 26 points, contributing to the Missouri Tigers 65-58 win against the Gamecocks.

COLUMBIA — With 52 seconds left on the clock, Bri Kulas finally let a little emotion seep out.

Until the last minute of the Missouri women's basketball team's game against South Carolina, Kulas had kept her feelings in check.

The junior forward kept her facial expression blank and celebrated little after making shots, as she has all year long in her first season with Missouri. 

Until the very end, she gave no indication that she was putting on a 26-point, 12-rebound performance that would help carry her team to a 65-58 victory over the No. 14 team in the country.

With her team sitting on a fragile five-point lead, Kulas drove into the lane, drew a foul and put the ball through the net.

When she turned around, her fist was in the air and a victorious smile was spread across her face.

Kulas made the ensuing free throw, giving Missouri an eight-point lead that the Gamecocks were unable to recover from.

Minutes later, in the Mizzou Arena press room, she was back to her usual quiet self. 

"I was just looking to attack and get to the basket," Kulas said. 

Although the Tigers have been known for their 3-point shooting, they went into Thursday's game with a plan to attack South Carolina's aggressive defense by scoring points in the paint. 

The plan perfectly suited Kulas' preferred style of play. Kulas finished 8-for-16 from the field, making 10 of her 13 free throws. 

As a team, the Tigers outscored South Carolina in the paint, 34-14.

"One thing that we talked about was just protecting the power zone," Kulas said. 

Her coach jumped in to correct her.

"I think we said we were going to dominate the power zone," Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. 

The win was Missouri's second over a ranked team this season and broke a five-game losing streak since its last victory over then-No. 9 Tennessee.

It also guaranteed the Tigers their first winning season since 2007 and made them eligible for postseason play. 

"We lost by five, we lost by eight, we lost in overtime," Pingeton said of the recent slump. "We've been right there with a young, inexperienced team in a new league. For them to continue to stay the course and stay true to it, I'm really proud of them."

The win brings the Tigers to 16-13 overall and 5-10 in the SEC.

Missouri will play its final regular season game at 2 p.m. Sunday when it travels to Alabama.

The Tigers will then play in the Southeastern Conference tournament in Duluth, Ga. before learning their postseason fate.

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