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Missouri women's team doesn't want upset win overshadowed

Missouri women's team doesn't want upset win overshadowed

January 10th, 2019 by Colin O'Brien in Mizzou Sports
Jordan Roundtree of Missouri defends as Rennia Davis of Tennessee goes up to shoot during Sunday's game in Knoxville, Tenn.

Jordan Roundtree of Missouri defends as Rennia Davis...

Photo by Associated Press /News Tribune.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Following a historic 66-64 win Sunday against Tennessee, the Twitter account of the Missouri women's basketball team posted a 22-second video of head coach Robin Pingeton entering a joyous visitors locker room at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.

Pingeton was lifted into the air by freshman Brittany Garner as the rest of the team surrounded, cheering and jumping, arms raised in celebration of the team's first-ever regular-season road win against a top-10 opponent, first-ever win at "The Summit" and the fifth win against a top-10 opponent in Pingeton's time at Missouri.

The win improved the Tigers to 13-3 and 2-0 in conference play, just outside of the AP top 25 poll.

But outside of that locker room, the reaction was far less celebratory for Tennessee fans and some otherwise neutral viewers, who saw the game on ESPN2 and didn't like what they saw.

Senior guard Sophie Cunningham, who drew the ire of South Carolina fans a year ago as a dirty player, elicited a similar reaction Sunday, though not from Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick or sophomore guard Rennia Davis, whom Cunningham unintentionally elbowed in the eye while driving to the basket during Sunday's game.

Cunningham, who scored a team-high 20 points in the win, was called for an unsportsmanlike foul after an official review. She also took exception, on video, to a Tennessee assistant declining to tap hands in the post-game handshake line and exchanged words with coaches and players after the final buzzer.

"It's another area for me to grow and get better," Cunningham said of the elbow. "Looking back, it was pretty high. Of course I didn't mean to, and I never mean to, it's the game of basketball, it's physical. I had a bloody lip myself a couple of times during the game. But it's just another area for me to get better."

It's easy to draw parallels to the start of a two-part escalation of alleged words and actions between Missouri and South Carolina a year ago after the Tigers upset the Gamecocks at home, which resulted in Missouri AD Jim Sterk settling a defamation lawsuit filed by Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley for $50,000 and paying another $25,000 in fines to the SEC.

"One of the biggest lessons I learned when we went through that whole ordeal with South Carolina, Dawn and I sat down at our conference meetings in Destin (Fla.) and as we both reflected back on what we could have done to make that situation better, I think we both agreed that we wish we would have gotten on the phone with each other," Pingeton said.

"I think that's a situation again like this game, once you hear some rumblings about what's been out there on social media, I immediately picked up the phone and called Holly. We've played phone tag, I've left her a message, she's left me a message, but she's somebody that I've got total respect for."

Pingeton said the officials came out of the review of Cunningham's foul with the right call, but was also disappointed the negatives of the game got as much attention as they did in a game she didn't perceive, in the moment or on review while watching film, as chippy.

"It's disappointing, and I hated that people took things maybe out of context," Pingeton said, "but we've just got to control what we can control, and it's a place that not many people have won at. I'm really proud of our kids."

Missouri's first win at Thompson-Boling was just Tennessee's 17th home loss since the Tigers joined the SEC.

The team also drew negative attention on social media from a replay camera angle that framed senior guard Lauren Aldridge's clapping in celebration of a turnover as directed at Warlick and the Tennessee bench. That backlash was the impulse for the players jointly deciding to remove themselves from Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for the rest of the season.

"By no means was that intended for coach Holly Warlick," Aldridge said. "I was not clapping in her face, it was not to be disrespectful to "The Summit" or that program. It was a high-intensity game, it came after a turnover, I was excited. I got into it, my adrenalin was high, and that was my response to it."

Aldridge, who scored 12 points and made timely 3s to keep the Tigers in the game, recalled a meeting her mother set up with legendary Lady Vols coach Pat Summit at an Arkansas game when Aldridge was in fourth or fifth grade as an example of her respect for the program.

Ahead of today's 7 p.m. game against Arkansas at Mizzou Arena, the challenge for the Tigers going forward is to put the specifics of the Tennessee game behind them while carrying forward the energy and emotion that allowed the team to come up with an answer for every Lady Vols charge.

The Razorbacks (12-4, 1-1 SEC) are much improved from this point in the year last season in Mike Neighbors' first year as head coach. Arkansas is still the same volume-shooting team that prides itself in not turning the ball over it was a year ago. But with another year of experience for Malica Monk, the Razorbacks' leading scorer a year ago, and the addition transfers Chelsea Dungee (Oklahoma) and Alexis Tolefree (Jones County Junior College), that offense has gotten more efficient, made more shots, and helped Arkansas won more games.

The defense has gotten better, too. The Razorbacks allowed 80 or more points in 10 of their 18 losses a year ago, including twice to Missouri, and have given up 80-plus just four times so far this season. Arkansas shot 36.4 percent from the floor and 28.7 percent from three in 2017-18, while allowing opponents to shoot 42.2 percent and 33.6 percent, respectively. This season, the Razorbacks are shooting 39 percent overall and 30.5 percent from beyond the arc, while opponents are making 38.7 percent of their total shots and just 29.5 percent on 3s.

Put another way, Arkansas had, by field goal percentage, a bottom-50 offense and bottom-75 defense a year ago, and both have moved to the middle of the pack this season. Missouri won 88-54 at home a year ago and 84-58 on the road, even after the game was moved because the team plane couldn't take off due to icy runways. At the very least, this should be tougher win for the Tigers this year, but if they're not careful, the Razorbacks have the offensive firepower to spring an upset.