COLUMBIA — Mizzou Arena was far from full on Thursday night, but Missouri women's basketball coach Robin Pingeton did her best to get the most out of the 1,051 fans on hand for a 66-56 win over No. 25 Georgia.
With just less than two minutes left to play, her Tigers jumped out to a 59-51 lead, their largest of the night. Missouri had held Georgia scoreless for more than seven minutes when Pingeton urged her team on toward another defensive stop.
As her team set into a 2-3 zone, the fourth-year coach began signaling to the crowd. She waved her hands up and down, and the fans got on their feet and cheered on to match her intensity.
"I hate doing that," Pingeton said with a grin. "As a coach, you want to act like you've been there before. ... But our players, our coaches, and fans, they really feed off of it."
The Tigers didn't get a stop on that possession as the Lady Bulldogs put an end to their seven-minute scoreless streak. However, the Tigers held on to their lead and beat their first ranked opponent of the season.
The Lady Bulldogs were aggressive on offense from the opening tip.
Junior forward Krista Donald set the tone early, grabbing offensive rebounds and attacking the basket with two early layups. When Georgia jumped out to an early lead, Pingeton made a defensive adjustment that proved to make the difference in this game, shifting from man-to-man defense into a 2-3 zone.
"I questioned early in the first half if we would be able to stay with that zone," Pingeton said. "But you got to roll the dice a little bit with teams like this."
Georgia led by as many as 10 points in the first half, but the Tigers zone defense took away the paint in the second half. The Lady Bulldogs shot 32 3-pointers, a season-high, and were held to 22.2 percent in the second half.
"I think defense definitely did help us win this game," senior forward Bri Kulas said. "We were communicating a lot, and that really helped us."
Kulas led the Tigers with 24 points and and 13 rebounds. Morgan Eye, who set the school record for most career 3-pointers, gave Missouri its first lead of the game on a three with just more than 13:00 to play in the second half.
The lead changed hands six more times, but Missouri pulled away behind the efforts of Kayla McDowell. The freshman forward came off the bench and scored 13 points. McDowell was especially effective down the stretch, leading the offense with Kulas and Morgan Stock on the bench.
"After those first two missed layups, I said it's all or nothing. I have to do this for my team," McDowell said.
This win moves Missouri to 13-3 on the season and 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference.
The Tigers will not have much time to celebrate Thursday's victory before heading to Lexington, Ky., for a 4 p.m. Sunday matchup. The No. 9 Wildcats lost to South Carolina 68-59 on Thursday.
ESPNU will broadcast a live video feed of the SEC face-off online.
The Lady Bulldogs dropped to 0-3 in the SEC and 12-4 overall on the season. Thirty-fifth-year coach Andy Landers had a simple message for his team after the game.
"We have to want to get better," Landers said. "It's pretty simple."
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