Tempers boiled over in the latest edition of what’s become a rivalry game in the Southeastern Conference, but the No. 11 Missouri women’s basketball team couldn’t complete the season sweep of No. 9 South Carolina, falling to the Gamecocks 64-54 Sunday in Columbia, S.C.
Missouri’s Amber Smith’s evened the score at 49-49 with 4:32 left in the fourth quarter at Colonial Life Arena, but South Carolina scored the next eight points and closed the game with a 15-5 run. Mizzou (17-4, 5-3 SEC) made just one field goal attempt in the game’s final five minutes and missed eight of its final nine shots. Hearing boos every time she touched the ball, MU’s Sophie Cunningham finished with a team-high 18 points but shot just three of 12 in the second half.
With its second straight loss, Mizzou slipped into a tie for fifth place in the SEC. Next up, the Tigers host No. 2 Mississippi State (22-0, 8-0) on Thursday. The Bulldogs are one of two undefeated Division I women’s teams.
The first time Mizzou and South Carolina met three weeks earlier in Columbia, Mo., Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley was ejected for drawing two technical fouls and later complained about officiating and Mizzou’s rough style of play. The Tigers figured they’d step into a raucous environment Sunday. As expected, the home crowd was all over Cunningham and her teammates from the opening tip.
With 2:18 left in the first half , MU’s Kayla Michael and South Carolina’s Alexis Jennings tumbled over each other diving for a loose ball, setting off a scrum of players from both teams. Cunningham entered the mix and pushed her way through the crowd, then was shoved into an official by South Carolina’s Doniyah Cliney. As she walked away from the pile, Cunningham threw her arms up as her left elbow clipped Jennings.
After a lengthy video review by the officials, Mizzou’s Jordan Roundtree and Nadia Green were both ejected for leaving the bench during the melee, though both retreated to the sideline before getting close to the action on the court. South Carolina’s Bianca Jackson also came off the bench but was not penalized. Cliney and Cunningham were slapped with offsetting unsportsmanlike penalties.
Once the officials restored order, Cunningham’s jumper tied the score 31-31 going into halftime.
South Carolina (18-3, 7-2) turned a two-point deficit into an eight-point lead in the third quarter, but the Tigers recovered with three straight baskets early in the fourth quarter before the Gamecocks controlled the final few minutes.
Mizzou got to the free throw line just twice in the second half and not until the final minute of the fourth quarter. South Carolina attempted 24 free throws to Mizzou’s six.
Jordan Frericks added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Tigers. Mizzou got only one point in nine minutes from starting forward Cierra Porter, who had early foul trouble.