Missouri women's basketball team struggles to make shots in loss to Tennessee

Sunday, February 23, 2014 | 7:21 p.m. CST; updated 6:47 a.m. CST, Monday, February 24, 2014
The Missouri women's basketball team lost to the Tennessee Volunteers on Sunday at Mizzou Arena.

COLUMBIA — Missouri senior Bri Kulas drove in the lane for a layup. The shot bounced off the rim and into the hands of Missouri freshman Kayla McDowell.

McDowell passed it back to Kulas inside. Three Tennessee Volunteers surrounded Kulas under the basket, but the senior made a one-handed pass around one of the defenders to a wide open Morgan Eye in the corner.

Eye did what she does best for Missouri, sinking her fourth 3-pointer of the game. The Tigers were within four points with four minutes left. Kulas pumped her fist while running back on defense. Lindsey Cunningham yelled and jumped into her defensive position.

It was a moment that came few and far between in Missouri's 56-50 loss to No. 10 Tennessee at Mizzou Arena on Sunday. Missouri got the open looks. The Tigers just couldn't knock down their shots.

Only four players scored for Missouri, a team used to seeing production from its bench. Kulas and Eye were the only Tigers to score in double digits, 22 and 15 respectively. McDowell and fellow freshman Sierra Michaelis combined for the Tigers' other 13 points.

The team finished the game shooting just 29.2 percent. Three days after hitting eight 3-pointers in the second half in a win against Florida, Missouri (16-11, 5-9 Southeastern Conference) finished Sunday's game with just seven 3-pointers, good for 21.9 percent.

"I feel like I just got so many good looks, that's where I just need to have more poise, you know being, I guess, a veteran on the team I need to be able to stick my shots," Eye said. "We wouldn't trade any of our looks that we had tonight, they were just a little short and just barely off."

Tennessee (22-5, 11-3 SEC) coach Holly Warlick said her team spent the past two days focused on how to defend Missouri's 3-point game.

"They shoot a lot of threes, but we wanted to make sure they shot contested threes," Warlick said. "That's tough for us because we're a team that gives up a lot of threes. And to hold them to seven threes for us is awesome."

The game featured the only two players in the SEC to score 10 or more field goals in at least four games this season in Tennessee's senior Meighan Simmons and Missouri's Kulas. Simmons finished with 20 points, the seventh time in the last 10 games she has scored 20 or more points. Kulas led all players with 22 points.

With about seven minutes left in the first half, Kulas drove right in the lane, spun back to her left and hit a layup to bring the Tigers to a 17-17 tie with the Volunteers. Her supporters, dressed in their Kulas T-shirts, stood and cheered in the stands. The season-high crowd of 5,017 joined the Kulas clan on their feet a few seconds later as Missouri forced a Tennessee turnover. The Tigers forced 16 Tennessee turnovers in the game, compared to just 11 of their own.

Eye hit one of her four 3-pointers with three minutes left in the first half to give Missouri its only lead of the game. The lead was short lived as Tennessee freshman Mercedes Russell hit a jumper on the Volunteers' next possession.

At halftime, Missouri trailed 25-22. Kulas led the Tigers with 10 points and five rebounds. McDowell had seven points and five rebounds. Simmons led Tennessee with 10 points in the first half.

Missouri was 2-for-15 from three point range in the first half. Tennessee was 2-for-7, both 3-pointers courtesy of Simmons. Eight of Tennessee’s first 10 points came from Simmons.

Despite the offensive troubles, Missouri coach Robin Pingeton liked what she saw from her team defensively. The Tigers held Tennessee to its lowest point total of the season. Tennessee's previous low came when the Volunteers scored 63 points against Vanderbilt in January.

"I felt like for the, pretty much, 35 of the 40 minutes, we did a nice job defensively," Pingeton said. "I think if you would've told us we're gonna hold them to 56 points going into this game, I would've liked my chances." 

Tennessee opened the first four minutes of the second half with a 12-3 run. Eye had the lone 3-pointer during that run, Missouri’s third of the game. Missouri scored five points in the first eight minutes of the second half.

The Tigers' shooting woes continued as Missouri trailed by 16 eight minutes into the second half. After a media timeout, Eye hit a 3-pointer and Kulas added a 3-pointer of her own a minute later, bringing the Tigers within 10 points.

"We just knew at any point in time, they could get on fire," Simmons said of Missouri's 3-point shooting.

The fire never got started. Missouri made just two 3-pointers the rest of the game. The Tigers closed the Tennessee lead to three, but two missed 3-pointers with less than a minute to play sealed the Volunteers victory.

"It was just one of those nights we had a hard time getting things going, and it never really got contagious except for that little stretch down there in the second half," Pingeton said.

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