COLUMBIA, MO — When you put two cats in the same arena, it’s bound to be a good fight. With the Missouri Tigers looking for revenge at home after losing a close 64-62 game earlier in the season at Lexington and the Kentucky Wildcats looking to extend their five-game winning streak against the Tigers, both teams had a lot on the line and the will to win.
“They [the girls] never really wavered. I’m really excited for our seniors because this is the first SEC team that we hadn’t beat [since joining the league],” said coach Robin Pingeton on her team's historic win tonight.
A strong fourth quarter production by the Tigers, however, and four double-digit point contributions from Cierra Porter (17), Sophie Cunningham (14), Amber Smith (15) and Sierra Michaelis (19), as well as 20-of-24 shooting from the free throw line gave them the ammo necessary to secure a 73-67 victory over their SEC foe and improve their league record to 6-3 (16-7 overall).
Missouri exploded out of the gates, igniting on a quick run to get the first points on the board with a layup from Lindsey Cunningham in the opening seconds of the game. Kentucky quickly found their stride, or should I say, Makayla Epps, who proved to be the Wildcats secret weapon in the first half.
Both teams battled back and forth, knocking down shots and playing well off of the boards, and it was Missouri’s Amber Smith who proved to be a force to be reckoned with for the solid Kentucky Wildcats.
The true freshman was a spark off of the bench yet again, knocking down 10 of Missouri’s 30 points, getting four rebounds and an assist, too. Despite excellent shooting from Smith, Lindsey Cunningham’s eight points, Michaelis’ eight points, it was eventually Kentucky who ended the half with the lead 31-30.
“If you guys remember the first game, we had a pretty rough second quarter,” said senior Michaelis on Missouri’s loss on the road at Lexington earlier this season. “We just talked about before the game putting 40 minutes together and taking it one-quarter at a time.”
Michaelis, who was recently named to the Tigers’ 1,000–point-club, did what she does best and knocked down a triple right away to lift Missouri 33-31 early on.
The Tigers weren’t able to extend that lead, however, as the Wildcats answered back to all of Missouri’s buckets and vice versa. Neither team could get ahead by more than two points of one another at the third media timeout.
Two back-to-back layups for the Tigers from Sophie Cunningham and Michaelis with less than 1:30 remaining in the quarter surged the Tigers through the end of the third quarter and give them a 48-45 lead going into the fourth period.
While Missouri carried their momentum into the fourth, Kentucky just couldn’t seem to keep up. The Tigers took off on a scoring spree led by Smith and Cierra Porter who combined for eight points in the first four minutes of play alone.
The Tigers continued to show no mercy on the Wildcats, extending their lead into the double digits throughout the final minutes of the game. Despite a long three by Kentucky’s star shooter, Epps who ended the game with a whopping 20 points, Missouri was the team that walked away with the win 73-67.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Missouri tonight,” said Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell. “They out-hustled us in every phase of the game, and those kids looked like they really wanted to win.”
Missouri heads to Starkville, MS to take on Mississippi State Sunday, Feb. 5 at 1:30 p.m. Kentucky returns to action on Feb. 2 at 7 p.m E.T against South Carolina.