On paper it was as improbable as could be.
But on Thursday night, playing without its best player and against the unanimous No. 1 overall South Carolina Gamecocks, the Tigers made history.
Missouri women’s basketball took down South Carolina 70-69 in an inspired, aggressive and all-time classic performance in front of 6,139 at Mizzou Arena.
Lauren Hansen laid in the game-winning layup with one-tenth of a second left in overtime to push the Tigers over the Gamecocks with a Herculean effort. Missouri held South Carolina scoreless over the final 3:34 of the extra session, securing victory by scoring the final six points of the contest.
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The thriller marked Missouri’s first-ever victory over a No. 1 overall team.
The poise with which Missouri played in its Southeastern Conference opener was similar to how the Tigers gave top-10 foe Baylor a run for its money earlier in the season. MU put it all together Thursday for a win that ranks among the best in program history.
All this after the Tigers were at a disadvantage hours before the game even started.
Missouri entered the matchup short-handed; five Tigers missed the game due to COVID-19 protocols. One of those six was All-SEC star Aijha Blackwell.
The absences tested the Tigers’ mettle, but MU didn’t back down.
Missouri (12-2, 1-0 SEC) grabbed a 22-18 lead in the second quarter, as coach Robin Pingeton was tactical from the start with her substitutions.
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Kiya Dorroh and Sara-Rose Smith came off the bench first, halfway through the first quarter. Izzy Higginbottom, one of the first subs Pingeton typically sends into the game, was unavailable as part of the COVID-19 protocols.
The Tigers held strong, owning a lead halfway through the third quarter.
South Carolina (12-1, 0-1 SEC) tied the game heading into the fourth. The score was knotted at 64 at the end of regulation.
Hansen and teammate Hayley Frank tied for the game’s scoring lead with 21 points. LaDazhia Williams recorded a double-double for the Tigers with 12 points and 12 rebounds, while Mama Dembele added 11 points to the cause.
Here’s what we learned about the Tigers in the signature victory:
Pingeton coaches a masterclass
Down her conference star, her key sixth woman and size against the No. 1 team in the nation, Pingeton coached her way to a 32-26 halftime lead against the Gamecocks and coaching star Dawn Staley.
Pingeton had to be smart with her game plan and her substitutions, and it paid off as her players executed the plan well.
Missouri clogged the lane and forced South Carolina to shoot 3-pointers, and to the Gamecocks’ credit, they made their shots early. But South Carolina made only 3 of 10 shots from deep heading into halftime.
When South Carolina roared back in the third quarter, Pingeton settled her team and put trust in her players.
That showed with Dembele hitting 3-pointers, Frank creating offense in every way, Hansen shooting confident shots and Williams holding her own against some of the best post players in the nation.
Tigers play games of their life
Williams, against her former school and entering the second half of the final season of her college career, put up perhaps the performance of her career.
She ended the first half with 11 points and six rebounds, drew fouls and was the aggressor against All-American forward Aliyah Boston.
Dembele closed out the game with 3-pointers and clutch layups. Smith, playing out of position all year, used her experience guarding multiple positions to great use. Dorroh gave the Tigers key minutes.
Missouri was the aggressor on offense and defense. The defensive performance was key, as the Tigers have looked for improvement on that end all season. As a team, Missouri held South Carolina to 38.2% shooting from the floor.
The Tigers finished 43% (25 of 58) from the floor and 47% (7 of 15) from 3.
Hansen’s game-winner will deservedly live in Missouri lore for years.
If there ever was a time for the Tigers to play the best games of their lives, it was Thursday. They did that, period.
Mizzou fought through South Carolina’s mismatch
The Gamecocks owned the rebounding battle, an area where it was clear South Carolina had the advantage from the start.
South Carolina had the size advantage with Victaria Saxton, Kamilla Cardoso and Boston, and owned the rebounding margin 42-31.
But when it mattered most, the Tigers made plays.
Missouri forced Saxton, Cardoso and Boston into foul trouble heading into the fourth quarter, and got the rebounds it needed to.
The saying “fortune favors the bold” was in play, and it paid off for MU.
The number of bodies in the lane messed with South Carolina’s offensive spacing, but the Gamecocks hurt themselves with missed layups and free throws.
Missouri dared South Carolina to hit 3s, and the Gamecocks hit only 5 of 18 on the night.
Missouri was given a chance. The Tigers took the ultimate advantage.
Chris Kwiecinski is the sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, overseeing University of Missouri and Boone County sports coverage. Follow him on Twitter @OchoK_ and contact him at [email protected] or 435-414-3261.
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Missouri women’s basketball upset South Carolina. What we learned