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Missouri women's basketball exits SEC tournament in first round

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 | 8:56 p.m. CST; updated 6:56 a.m. CST, Thursday, March 6, 2014
Missouri forward Bri Kulas loses her grip on the ball as she tries to get past Mississippi State guard Jerica James in the first half of the first-round women's Southeastern Conference Tournament on Wednesday in Duluth, Ga.

The Missouri women's basketball team mounted several offensive runs, but the Tigers could not hold on to capture the school's first SEC tournament win on Wednesday, as the Mississippi State (19-12) Bulldogs topped Missouri, 73-70.

The Bulldogs showed no signs of a hangover after Sunday’s 29-point loss to Georgia. Mississippi State managed to get the ball inside frequently against Missouri’s 2-3 zone, and center Martha Alwal set the tone early. The Bulldogs' shooters were effective from the tip, hitting three of their first four shots.

After starting the game 3-for-13 from the field, the Tigers (17-14) got a big boost from their bench when Morgan Stock entered the game. The sophomore guard hit back-to-back 3-pointers, helping Missouri score on four straight possessions. The Bulldogs' effective shooting early on allowed them to keep pace with the Tigers.

However, the Mississppi State shooters would soon go cold. Missouri gained some breathing room with a 10-0 run that spanned 4:27, and opened up a 26-17 lead with 7:39 remaining in the first half.

Mississippi State chipped away at the Tigers’ lead when starters Bri Kulas and Lianna Doty were forced to sit critical minutes because of foul trouble. The Bulldogs put a couple of small runs together and eventually overtook the lead with 2:39 remaining in the half.

"Obviously (we) got into foul trouble that hurt us, having some key players on the bench. I thought the end of the first half really hurt us," said Missouri coach Robin Pingeton at the postgame press conference.

Despite Missouri’s tight interior defense, Alwal put up 11 of her 16 points in the first period. Junior guard Kendra Grant provided a spark off the bench for Mississippi State, and scored 10 of her 17 points in the first half. Dominique Dillingham hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, her first basket of the game, to close the half and put the Bulldogs up 38-34.

Early in the second half, things looked grim for the Tigers. Mississippi State scored on its first two possessions, and Bri Kulas picked up her third foul after less than a minute of play.

Pingeton showed trust in her senior captain, however, allowing her to remain in the gamed despite her foul trouble.

Her gamble paid off.

On the next possession, Kulas pulled down two consecutive offensive rebounds, and redirected a ball heading out of bounds into the hands of a wide open Sierra Michaelis. Michealis knocked down a 3-pointer. That possession sparked a 20-4 Missouri run. 

Kulas and Doty would both pick up their fourth personal fouls with more than fourteen minutes left in the game. Although Michaelis picked up some of the offensive slack, hitting all four of her 3-point attempts in the half, the lack of leadership on the court was visible. Missouri committed 18 turnovers on the night. 

The Tigers trailed by 2 points and had possession with more than ten seconds to play. A Maddie Stock turnover, followed by a quick foul, allowed Jerica James to add a free throw, putting the Bulldogs up by 3 in the closing seconds. Stock would get the opportunity for a last-second 3-point heave, but her shot clanked off the left side of the rim. 

"That last shot didn't fall, but it's not her fault," said Michaelis, who finished the game with 16 points. "There's a lot of things we could have done during the game, too."

Thursday's win over Missouri was the Bulldogs' second against the Tigers this season. Mississippi State topped Missouri 69-62 on Jan. 26.

Mississippi State will take on the 5th-seeded Florida Gators, who have lost four of five games, (18-11, 8-8 SEC) at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday. 

After the loss, the Tigers now hope to compete in the Women's National Invitational Tournament. Bids will be announced on March 17. 


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