Missouri women's basketball heads to South Carolina after big home win

Saturday, February 1, 2014 | 5:28 p.m. CST; updated 9:41 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 1, 2014
Missouri's Kayla McDowell shoots over Vanderbilt's Morgan Batey on Thursday at Mizzou Arena. McDowell scored 13 points in Missouri's 59-54 win.

COLUMBIA — It's the home stretch. Six down, two to go. 

It's been a test. It's had ups and downs.

It's been six games against five ranked opponents, and it's not over yet.

The toughest stretch of the Missouri women’s basketball team’s schedule ends with its hardest tests. After upsetting No. 16 Vanderbilt at home Thursday, the Tigers' next two games are on the road against top-15 opponents.

For coach Robin Pingeton, her team's strenuous Southeastern Conference schedule is nothing more than "the good fight of playing in the best league in the country."

But the SEC has taken its toll on the Tigers, which came into conference play boasting an 11-2 record. Missouri (14-7) has won just two of its past six games and has fallen to 3-5 in the SEC. 

The Tigers are anything but demoralized.

"I feel like there have been so many great things that have happened in the past couple of weeks," Pingeton said. "We are so much better than we were a year ago, but we're also playing some of the best teams in the country."

Thursday's win against Vanderbilt marks the Tigers' second against a ranked opponent this season. Both wins have come in the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena. Missouri took down then-No. 25 Georgia on Jan. 7.

Sunday's competition will take place in a slightly less icy Columbia, as Missouri will travel to Columbia, S.C., to take on the No. 7 Gamecocks.

South Carolina has had success on both sides of the ball all season. On offense, it shoots an SEC-high 49.1 percent from the field while limiting opponents to an SEC-low 34.1 percent on defense. The Gamecocks (19-2, 7-1) are unbeaten at home this season and tied for first in the conference. 

After an unexpected road loss at Mississippi State last weekend, Pingeton expects to make some changes in preparation for this road battle.

"I did not do a very good job with my rotation against Mississippi State," Pingeton said. "We have too good of a bench for some of those kids to not be playing a bit more than they are."

With starters Morgan Eye, Lianna Doty and Bri Kulas all struggling with foul trouble, Missouri's bench carried the load Thursday night. Led by freshman forward Kayla McDowell's, who had 13 points, Missouri's bench players accounted for 30 of the team's 56 points.

If the Tigers hope to make a splash in the conference with another upset, they will need a similar performance from the bench Sunday.

Sunday's game begins at 2 p.m. A radio broadcast will air on KTGR 100.5 FM.

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