COLUMBIA— It danced on the rim — in then out, up then down, popping out of the hoop then sitting on the front of the cylinder. Finally, it rolled in.
As the ball fell through the net, Missouri's Morgan Eye gave a quick fist pump. Lucky rolls were hard to come by on Sunday for a cold-shooting Missouri women's basketball team, and Eye's 3-pointer gave her team a two-point lead with just over two minutes left to play.
That lead would not last. Alabama's Sharin Rivers answered with a deep 3-pointer of her own, and the Crimson Tide rallied to ward off Missouri's late comeback attempt, defeating the Tigers 59-56.
For Missouri (14-10, 3-8 SEC), it's the seventh loss in eight games.
"This one hurts quite a bit," Missouri head coach Robin Pingeton said.
Missouri struggled out of the gates, allowing Alabama to jump out to an early lead. Rivers, Alabama's 5-foot-3 point guard, led the Tide's early charge. The smallest player on the court made an impact from the outside with two early 3-pointers.
Although Missouri's defense kept the Tide in check for a majority of the half, Alabama pulled away during a five-minute field goal drought by the Tigers. Missouri, which leads the SEC with 9.5 3-point field goals per game, struggled to connect on open opportunities from outside throughout the contest. The Tigers shot 28.6 percent from the field and connected on only one of 13 3-point attempts in the first half.
"I almost felt bad for them at the beginning of the game," Pingeton said. "You could just tell they were a step slow on everything. One possession continued to linger into the next possession."
Alabama capitalized on Missouri's inability to put points on the board. Forwards Ashley Williams and Nikki Hegstetter dominated the paint and helped the Tide take a 32-22 lead into the intermission.
Missouri climbed back into the game with a 7-0 run early in the second half. The Tigers continued to struggle from the outside, but they played strong defense throughout the second half.
The Tigers held Alabama scoreless for a six-minute stretch and gained their first lead with 7:40 left to play — but once again, cold shooting caught up with the Tigers.
Missouri continued to miss open opportunities and, in the end, missed out on what could have been a much-needed win with postseason play on the horizon.
Pingeton understands the pressure her inexperienced team will face in its final five games, and she hopes they will embrace it.
"If you want to extend your season into postseason, there's going to be some pressure on you. But, how are you going to handle it? You have to look it straight in the eye and dominate it," she said, "and we didn't do that in the first half."
"I thought I got extremely good looks," said Eye, who led all scorers with 19 points. But she also saw the loss as a missed opportunity. "I'm a junior now, so I expect to knock those down."
Alabama's win is the team's fourth in conference play.
"We are really fortunate to sneak out of here with a win," Alabama coach Kristi Curry said. "This is a hard place to play."
Curry was especially pleased with Rivers, who led Alabama's scorers with 18 points.
"You can get after her; she's not scared of anything," Curry said. "Dynamite comes in small packages."
The Tigers will have a week before their next competition. Missouri will square off against Auburn (13-10, 4-6 SEC) at 2 p.m Feb. 16 in Auburn, Ala.