COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP)—Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said it’s no secret her program hasn’t had much success in recent years.
So it’s possible the Tigers’ 80-63 win over No. 9 Tennessee may open some eyes around the Southeastern Conference.
Morgan Eye scored 26 points and Bri Kulas added 20 to help Missouri win its first game against a ranked team in almost two years. The Tigers shot 52.7 percent from the field, their best showing in Southeastern Conference play this season, and went 11 for 24 on 3-point attempts.
The Tigers’ last victory over a ranked team came March 5, 2011, against No. 23 Iowa State. The last time they beat a top-10 team was Jan. 23, 2010, when they beat No. 10 Baylor 70-62. The team reached 15 wins for the first time since the 2006-07 season, when it went 17-14.
“You’ve got to go through the fires, and the fires are hard,” said Pingeton, who’s in her third year with the Tigers. “There’s a lot of growing pains. We didn’t take over a program that was in the middle of the pack.”
Eye made six 3-pointers after entering the day leading the country with 3.8 makes per game. Her final 3-pointer with 9:30 left in the game capped a 13-2 Missouri run and gave the Tigers (15-8, 4-5 SEC) a 58-47 lead. Meighan Simmons’ layup three minutes later closed the gap to 60-53, but the Lady Vols could get no closer.
“In all my career, I’ve never felt something like that after a game,” Missouri senior Liz Smith said. “And it was just something so great to experience with my teammates, especially in my last year.”
Kamiko Williams scored 14 points to lead the Lady Vols (17-5, 8-1 SEC) before leaving with 16:59 left with an ankle injury. Tennessee has lost two of three and had its 12-game winning streak in the SEC snapped.
Williams scored all of her points and grabbed six rebounds in the first half, helping the Lady Vols keep up with Missouri’s six 3’s. She fell to the floor after clutching her leg three minutes into the second half after attempting to grab a defensive rebound and remained there for a few minutes before being helped off the court. She sat on the bench for the final 10 minutes after a brief visit to the locker room.
Missouri took advantage, outscoring the Lady Vols 41-22 with Williams off the floor.
“I thought she was getting inside their defense, I thought she was getting good looks,” coach Holly Warlick said. “Her rebounding brought us energy on the defensive end. When she went out, nobody picked up the slack.”
Williams started for the second consecutive game in place of injured center Isabelle Harrison, who averaged 10.0 points per game before injuring her left knee and undergoing surgery Friday.
The team also lost reserve forward Jasmine Jones late in the game to a knee injury after only having nine available players to start the day. Warlick said after the game there was no update on the status of either Williams or Jones.
“I don’t care if we play six people, seven people, five people,” Taber Spani said. “It doesn’t matter.”
Simmons scored 13 points and Spani added 12 for Tennessee, which beat the Tigers 84-39 on Jan. 10 in Knoxville. Spani said she played in front of about 60 family and friends in her first game back in Missouri since growing up in the Kansas City area.
“I was extremely excited,” Spani said. “Obviously, it was the perfect time for MU to come into the league. I had a lot of family and friends come over from Kansas City. It’s always fun to play in front of your hometown. I just wish we had put on a better performance.”
After going 13-18 last season, including 2-16 in the Big 12, Missouri looks to keep building “brick by brick,” Pingeton said.
“There’s no doubt about it. It’s an awfully big one,” she said of Sunday’s win. “I think every season, every journey is very unique and very special. And we’ve had a lot of big wins over the years, but this is certainly, this is special.”