Missouri women's basketball gears up for pivotal home competition against Tennessee

Saturday, February 22, 2014 | 9:32 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Every once in a while, things simply click, and everything falls into place. On Feb. 3, 2013, that was the case for the Missouri women's basketball team.

The Tigers took advantage of an injury-plagued opponent and shot a staggering 52.7 percent from the field to then-No. 9 Tennessee at Mizzou Arena. The 80-63 victory was Missouri's first win over a top-10 opponent in more than three years. It also marked a 62-point swing from the teams' first meeting last season when the Tigers lost 84-39. 

Sunday's Game

Missouri Tigers (16-10, 5-8) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (21-5, 10-3)

Where: Mizzou Arena

When: 1 p.m.


Radio: KTGR 100.5 FM, 103.1 FM, and 1580 AM

* Live video will be aired on ESPN3. 

More than a year later, the stage has been set for another marquee matchup this Sunday as the No. 10 Volunteers return to Mizzou Arena. 

Fresh off of two resume-boosting road wins at Florida and Auburn, the Tigers are postseason-eligible for the second straight season. Sunday's home battle against Tennessee (21-5, 10-3 SEC) will certainly play a determining role in which tournament the Tigers will compete in come late March.

A win should boost Missouri (16-10, 5-8) into the bubble conversation for the NCAA tournament with just three games and the Southeastern Conference tournament remaining.

A loss, on the other hand, will most likely place the Tigers in the WNIT. 

Before the season opened, the Tigers set a team goal of earning an NCAA tournament berth. It would be Missouri's first since 2006.

Although Sunday's matchup could determine whether that goal will be met sophomore guard Lianna Doty believes her team should maintain a consistent approach throughout this pivotal final stretch of games. 

"We had our goals set at the very beginning of the season of where we want to get in the postseason," Doty said at Tuesday's practice. "I don't think it really changes that much."

If Missouri plans on stealing its third win against a ranked opponent this season, the Tigers will need another big performance from freshman guard Sierra Michaelis. 

The Mercer native struggled to earn minutes early in the conference season but made her first two career starts at Auburn and Florida. 

"She's a young kid that obviously knows how to score the ball and had great success in high school," Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said Tuesday. "The biggest challenge coming out of high school was probably understanding the pace of the game, physicality of the game and the athleticism."

Although it took Michaelis some time to adjust from 1-A high school basketball to SEC play, the 2013 Miss Show-Me State Basketball has taken full advantage of her latest opportunities.

She earned her first career double-double and posted career highs in points (18), rebounds (11), steals (4), and minutes (34) against Florida on Thursday. 

Pingeton said she gave Michaelis the starting nod because of an impressive stretch of practices, and the coach likes what she has seen from the freshman so far in that starting role. 

"Ever since Christmas break, I feel like she's been making some giant strides," Pingeton continued. "She just continued to do things that were eye-opening in practice."

The additions of Michaelis and freshman forward Kayla McDowell to the starting lineup have breathed new life into a Missouri offense that struggled for consistency during a recent eight-game stretch that included seven losses. 

The Tigers have shot above 46 percent from beyond the arc in their past two games and are coming off an impeccable 8-for-11 second-half 3-point shooting effort at Florida. 

Missouri hopes to expose one of Tennessee few vulnerabilities with its outside shooting. The Volunteers have allowed opponents to shot 30.9 percent from deep, which ranks 10th in the SEC. 

"We talk a lot about being an inside-out team, but if our shooters get an open look from three, we certainly want them to take advantage," Pingeton said.

Sunday's final score will undoubtedly impact the Tigers' short-term future, but regardless of what the scoreboard reads at the final whistle, Missouri's players and coaches have enjoyed the growth experienced throughout the program this season. 

"We came here to build a program," Doty said. "It's a huge honor to be a part of something like this and be able to see the program growing just from last year to this year."

Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.

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