COLUMBIA — The Missouri women's basketball team had trouble leaving an icy Columbia on Saturday afternoon. After hours of delay, the Tigers did not arrive in Columbia, S.C., until Sunday morning.
A trip plagued by early transportation delays became one to forget for the Tigers (14-8, 3-6) as No. 7 South Carolina (20-2, 8-1) coasted to a 78-62 victory Sunday afternoon.
"This is a tough one, and I don't say that very often," Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said in a post-game interview on KTGR 100.5 FM.
Senior forward Bri Kulas scored the game's first points on a 3-pointer, giving Missouri its first and only lead of the competition.
From that point on, Missouri struggled to score against the nation's third-ranked defense, which holds opponents to 53.1 points per game. The Tigers committed seven turnovers in the opening eight minutes of play, allowing South Carolina to jump out to an early 10-point lead, 20-10.
Morgan Stock cut into the lead, scoring five points in just over 40 seconds. However, momentum quickly shifted away from the Tigers as South Carolina's forwards began to impose their will in the paint.
Led by a dominate duo of 6-foot-4-inch forwards, Elem Ibiam and Alaina Coates, South Carolina mounted a 17-4 run spanning more than five minutes. The home team's aggressive mentality paid off in the form of freethrows. The Gamecocks scored 14 of their 48 first-half points from the charity stripe and took a 23-point lead into the intermission.
"We didn't play with the poise, the toughness, the discipline we needed to to give ourselves a chance in the first half," Pingeton said.
Missouri showed signs of improvement coming out of the break and cut the deficit to ten with a 15-5 run. Once again, the Gamecocks weathered the storm and extended their lead to as many as 20 on their way to a 16-point victory.
After a great performance in Thursday's upset of No. 16 Vanderbilt, freshman forward Kayla McDowell struggled to find a groove in Sunday's contest. McDowell played 13 minutes and failed to score before fouling out with more than eight minutes remaining.
Pingeton said turnovers hurt her team, especially in the first half, but also said she understood a variety of factors led to the loss.
"We had a couple kids that weren't awake yet; I think we had a couple kids that pressed a little bit and didn't play with poise," Pingeton said. "I think we have a couple kids that are learning what the big leagues are all about with the SEC. So, I think it's a little bit of everything."
If any of the Tigers were ready for Sunday's competition, it was Kulas. She led all scorers with 21 points and added 10 boards, but no individual effort could keep pace with South Carolina's balanced offensive attack. Six different scorers reached double-digit points for the Gamecocks.
With Sunday's win and a Texas A&M loss on the road at Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks moved into first in the SEC on Sunday.
Missouri will head to Baton Rouge, La., on Thursday to square off against LSU. Missouri and LSU have already met once this season. The Tigers from the bayou had trouble containing Kulas as she posted a career-high 30 points, but LSU bested Missouri 87-68 at Mizzou Arena on Jan. 16. LSU will be Missouri's seventh ranked opponent in their past eight games.
"We are going to have to set this one aside and flush it and move on to LSU," Pingeton said.