Missouri women's basketball's bench shines in upset victory

Friday, January 31, 2014 | 8:35 a.m. CST
Missouri forward Bri Kulas drives past Vanderbilt guard Morgan Batey during Missouri's 59-54 win Thursday at Mizzou Arena. Kulas led all scorers with 15 points during the game.

COLUMBIA — Vanderbilt's Jasmine Lister jumped and released the ball. She watched as it hit the back of the rim and bounced up into the air.

As the ball came down, Missouri's Kayla McDowell raised her arms and fought off two Vanderbilt players for possession.

The whistle blew, and Missouri fans already on their feet erupted into cheers.

Lister stared at the hoop, her feet planted where she landed after releasing her seventh 3-point attempt of the night. She had made her team's only two 3-pointers of the game.

The clock showed seven seconds. McDowell was headed to the free throw line at the other end of the court, ready to seal Missouri's 59-54 upset of No. 16 Vanderbilt at Mizzou Arena on Thursday.

McDowell's two free throws capped a 30-point effort from Missouri's bench in its second win over a ranked team this season. The freshman led all scorers coming off the bench with 13 points and eight rebounds.

Sophomore guard Morgan Stock added 11 points and scored half of Missouri's six 3-pointers.

The Tigers' 30 bench points were a season high in Southeastern Conference play and came from several role players taking advantage of new opportunities.

Sophomore Michelle Hudyn saw her first significant minutes in conference play and scored a career-high six points and pulled in six rebounds.

Missouri's bench players might have had a little added motivation. Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said television commentators for Missouri's game against Mississippi State praised Mississippi State's bench for its toughness and skill.

Pingeton told her players what was said, hoping to "build a little fire in their belly."

"I don't know if that was it or not, but I think they absolutely filed it," Pingeton said.

All but two Missouri players contributed points, and three Tigers reached double figures.

"We've really been concentrating on playing as a team," Stock said. "We came into this game saying just have fun and play, and we all just came together to play together. We were looking to get everybody open, anybody shots, just looking to help our teammates out."

Senior forward Bri Kulas got the better of Vanderbilt's Christina Foggie. Kulas scored 15 points in 23 minutes to lead the Tigers. Missouri held Foggie to 10 points. The Vanderbilt senior averaged more than 19 points per game this season, but Kulas leads in points per game in SEC games.

"Vandy's a really good team, and I thought defensively we were spot-on for 40 minutes," Pingeton said. "We really wanted to focus on at least containing them. We didn't want them to go off on us, so we played our zone a little bit differently than we have previously in the last couple games on some different rotations and matchups."

Vanderbilt shot a season low 22.2 percent and a mere 12.5 percent from beyond the arc. The Commodores entered the game leading the SEC with a 42.2 3-point field goal percentage.

Foggie was the only Vanderbilt player to reach double digits. Eight of her 10 points came from free throws.

Missouri trailed by one four minutes into the game but shot 43 percent in the first half. With just under nine minutes to play, Vanderbilt's Lister hit a 3-pointer to tie Missouri at 13.

Vanderbilt didn't score a field goal in the last 6:38 of the first half, and Missouri went on a 20-7 run to enter the break.

The Tigers' halftime lead of 33-20 was Missouri's largest halftime lead in SEC play.

Vanderbilt tried its hardest to make a comeback in the second half and got within one point of Missouri with less than a minute left.

But Missouri, which leads the SEC with a 76.9 percent free throw percentage, closed out the game. Stock made two free throws, followed by McDowell’s final points.

Missouri is now 14-7 and 3-5 in SEC play. Vanderbilt fell to 16-5 and 5-3.

Lindsey Cunningham played eight minutes for Missouri a day after the redshirt freshman left practice. Pingeton said Cunningham felt lightheaded and may have lost her vision for a brief moment. Cunningham had tests done at the hospital Wednesday and Thursday. All tests came up negative.

Pingeton doesn’t know what the cause was, but the Tigers were happy to have Cunningham play. 

"The great news is, she's back," Pingeton said. "I know that took a toll on everyone yesterday because she's, she's the glue to our team."

Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.

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