Amber Smith drives toward the basket

Amber Smith drives toward the basket Thursday as Missouri takes on South Carolina at Mizzou Arena in Columbia. Smith will be key to Missouri's success Sunday against Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi.

Missouri hung with them the first quarter. 

The No. 1 women's team in the country, South Carolina, was held to just 12 points. It was a slow start for a team that had dropped over 90 points in its last four games. Missouri only had seven points of its own, but it was in the game. 

South Carolina's problem was that it only shot 20% from the field in the first quarter.

"The first quarter was directly related to how Missouri plays, they slow the ball down. Defensively, they make you shoot from the outside. If you're not prepared for them sagging off of you, you tend to make bad decisions. You tend to make bad shots," South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. 

Missouri's problem was that it only shot 30% for the game. 

An 18-3 run to cap the second quarter effectively put the Tigers out of the contest, however, and South Carolina rolled to a 78-45 victory Thursday. 

The second-quarter run by the Gamecocks was marked by Missouri's inability to find its way to the basket. The Tigers committed several shot clock violations as South Carolina's defense shut down the lane Missouri wanted to run its offense through. 

What limited shots the Tigers were able to put up became even more insubstantial as South Carolina man-handled the boards. A continued problem for Missouri, the Tigers were outrebounded by 31 in the contest.

"The biggest thing with teams like that, which we talked about before and I don't think we did a very good job executing was just box out early," Hayley Frank, who often found herself in the scrum in the paint, said. "Yesterday we mentioned 'when they cross half court we've got to be thinking box out and just widening out too and keeping them out of the paint.'" 

On the offensive end, the Tigers could be found heading back on defense without pounding the boards in their attempts to not get beat on transition. On the defensive end, the Gamecocks couldn't be kept from the basket, overpowering the smaller Tigers to pull down their own rebounds, again and again. 

"Coach always says go ahead and shoot, and we've got rebounders, so we have a lot of confidence in them. We know they're going to rebound the ball and they're going to make the shot afterwards," Zia Cooke, the Gamecocks' leading scorer with 14 points, said of her team's forwards. 

A loss to the top team in the country isn't the season-ender for Missouri, but where do the falling Tigers go next? A slight reprieve comes against Ole Miss, who's winless in the SEC, on Sunday. But three matchups against Top 25 teams follow for another tough stretch. 

The final half of the SEC slate for Missouri brings the other six teams in the bottom half of the conference. Two of those, Ole Miss and Auburn, have yet to win a conference game, and two others, Alabama and Georgia, have a single conference win. An NCAA tournament appearance is likely out of the question for the Tigers, but these final stretch of games make a difference when SEC Tournament seeding comes. And if Missouri can pick up a win against one of the remaining ranked teams on the schedule, it places the Tigers with a better chance to play meaningful games in the postseason. 

Tipoff against Ole Miss is set for 2 p.m. Sunday in Oxford. Fans can watch the game live on SEC Network+ or listen live on KTGR. 

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