The most significant moment in Missouri's game at Auburn on Sunday afternoon came after the final buzzer had sounded, when freshman point guard Akira Levy went through the postgame handshake line on crutches and with ice wrapped around her right knee.
With 8 minutes, 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the visiting Tigers clinging to a one-point lead, Levy had attempted a behind-the-back dribble in order to weave her way between two Auburn defenders. As she shifted her weight, her right knee buckled, and she collapsed and began to writhe on the floor.
Strong and proud as ever, she walked off the court and into the locker room on her own power, clapping and encouraging her teammates as she went despite her obvious pain. But her moment of leadership proved to not be enough to lift her teammates out of their rut, as Missouri made just three fourth-quarter field goals en route to a deflating 58-54 loss.
Missouri (19-9, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) dropped into a three-way tie for fifth place in the SEC with the loss, while Auburn (20-8, 8-6 SEC) improved its NCAA Tournament résumé with its narrow victory.
Even with the postseason implications of the loss, Sunday's game will become all the more significant for Missouri if Levy has to miss significant time.
The visiting Tigers played their worst game since their 61-51 loss at LSU on Feb. 4, but they were almost able to bail themselves out on the strength of one strong quarter of play. Trailing 26-22 entering the third quarter, Missouri responded by going on a tear in the period, posting 23 points to open up a seven-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
It was a run made possible by attacking the basket on offense and doing a better job of extending out to Auburn's shooters on the defensive end. When Levy hit two free throws late in the third to give her team its largest lead of the day, it appeared Missouri was in great position to escape the state of Alabama with another impressive road win.
Then the fourth quarter began, and the team that had turned the ball over 12 times in the first half reappeared. The visiting Tigers' inability to take care of the ball put their shooters out of rhythm and caused their offense to grind to a halt, leaving an opportunity for Auburn to get back in the game. The host Tigers obliged, and they took the lead for good with 6:23 remaining.
Missouri's 19 turnovers overshadowed its good work on the glass, where the team bested Auburn 39-27. Amber Smith led the way in that department, posting 11 rebounds to go along with 10 points for her eighth double-double of the season. Sophie Cunningham, who posted 19 points but was largely contained by Auburn's defense on the wings, added five rebounds of her own.
Next up for Missouri is its final road game of the regular season: a trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to take on the rival Arkansas Razorbacks. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. Thursday.
Supervising editor is Eric Lee.