The Missouri women’s basketball team has the chance to redeem one of its most disappointing losses of the season in its first game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The fifth-seeded Tigers (21-9, 10-6 SEC) play 13th-seeded Florida (8-22, 3-13 SEC) at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Greenville, South Carolina.
Missouri was riding a six-game winning streak in January, including an upset victory over then-No. 10 Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee, when it traveled to Gainesville, Florida, to play the Gators, who where 0-3 in SEC play at the time. The Tigers held an eight-point lead with a little under three minutes left in the game before Florida finished the game on a 10-0 run to hand Missouri its first conference loss.
In that game, MU senior Sophie Cunningham played 35 minutes, fouled out and attempted five field goals. Cunningham, who was recently named to the All-SEC First Team for the third consecutive year, has attempted fewer than 10 field goals only once in her past 12 games. Expect Cunningham to be more aggressive in seeking her own shot this time around.
Fellow senior Cierra Porter should also have a larger impact on Thursday’s game. Porter had her best game of the season last Thursday against Arkansas and was named SEC Sixth Woman of the Year on Tuesday. Of Florida players who average more than 20 minutes per game, redshirt junior forward Zada Williams is the tallest at 6-foot-2.
Porter is 6-foot-4, and since entering the starting lineup, she has only played less than 20 minutes twice: against Kentucky (19 minutes) and when she was in foul trouble in Missouri’s upset over then-No. 5 Mississippi State. She should be able to deal damage down low against Florida.
This is also a matchup between one of the best defenses and worst offenses in the SEC. In SEC play, the Tigers have allowed the fewest points per game and have the second-best field goal percentage defense. Although defensive field goal percentage numbers can be noisy and dubious to draw conclusions from, once coupled with the Gators’ shooting woes, Missouri fans should feel confident.
Florida is one of only two teams to have launched more 3-pointers this season than the Tigers, but it also has the second-worst 3-point field goal percentage. The Gators also have the worst field goal percentage in the SEC.
One thing the Tigers must do against Florida is take care of the ball. The Gators had nine steals in their 64-57 win over Ole Miss on Wednesday, and the Rebels finished the game with 18 turnovers. Florida forced three turnovers in the final two minutes of its frantic comeback win over Missouri in January.
If the Tigers take care of the ball and the Gators don’t suddenly catch fire from 3, Missouri should be in good shape to move on to the quarterfinals against fourth-seeded Kentucky.
Supervising editor is Eric Lee.