The Missouri women’s basketball team almost pulled off a massive upset at No. 5 Baylor on Saturday night.
The Tigers — who entered the game undefeated and off to their best start since 2015-16 — trailed by nine points in the fourth quarter, but went on a late run and had a chance to win the game on the final possession.
Guard Lauren Hansen’s shot rolled in and out of the basket, though, and Mizzou lost 70-68 in Waco, Texas.
“When you look at the stats, we actually beat them in that second half. And I think that says a lot about their resiliency, I think it says a lot about their toughness,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said of her team. “I really love this team, I love going to battle for and with them. And it’s just a really good group.
“And I’m not surprised, I felt like we had more fight in us. And I told them in the locker room I’m really proud of them. I know it hurts and we’re all disappointed and we all wanted this. But, again, it’s a marathon not a sprint, and we’re going to have more opportunities as we go through the course of this season.”
Guards Aijha Blackwell and Haley Troup led the way for the Tigers (8-1) as they held their own with one of the best teams in the nation. (Baylor is also 8-1.) Blackwell finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds for her sixth double-double of the season before fouling out. Troup had 16 points and six assists.
The Tigers made eight three-pointers while holding Baylor to just four on 25% shooting beyond the arc, and they also won the rebounding battle, 38-35. But much of the difference in the game came down to the free-throw line, where the Bears got 18 of their points on 32 tries.
Missouri had trouble with Baylor’s stifling defense from the opening minutes, missing its first seven shots from the floor. But the Tigers rallied and went on a 7-0 run near the end of the first quarter and tied the game, 12-12.
Blackwell scored all seven of the team’s first points in the opening frame.
“She just plays with so much passion and grittiness and toughness, and she’s a hard guard and just a tremendous rebounder for us,” Pingeton said of Blackwell. “I know Aijha emptied her tank for us tonight, and she kept us in it in that first half when things, we just couldn’t get anything going. And she loves games like this ... she competed at a really high level for us tonight.”
It was back and forth in the second quarter, but the Bears eventually grabbed another lead behind their hounding defense and the outstanding play of All-American forward NaLyssa Smith.
Smith scored six of her 15 first-half points in the final two minutes of the half (with Blackwell on the bench with two fouls), and Baylor took a 36-27 advantage into the break. Smith finished with 25 points, 17 rebounds and three assists.
Mizzou entered Saturday night’s contest as a top-15 shooting team in the nation, but against Baylor made only 12 of 30 shots from the field and 3 of 12 from beyond the arc in the first half. The Tigers also committed nine turnovers in the half.
“We were very aware that, you know, that first half of basketball, it just wasn’t us. We weren’t playing at the level that we were capable of playing at,” Pingeton said. “And so we really needed to recalibrate and just be the aggressors. I felt like in the first half Baylor was so much more aggressive, so much more physical than we were, and we just kind of took it.”
Baylor extended its lead to as many as 11 points during the early going of the third quarter, but the Tigers went on to outscore their opponent by five points in the period to bring the game to within four points.
And then Troup took over in the final quarter.
With under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Troup drained a three-pointer from the top of the arc to trim the Mizzou deficit to 56-55. Less than a minute later, she hit a jumper that tied the game. And with 7:11 left, she was left wide open as she splashed home another triple that gave Missouri a 60-57 lead, its first of the game. The Tigers had gone on a 10-1 run to put themselves right in it against the No. 5 team in the nation.
“We just got a lot more aggressive, a lot more physical,” Pingeton said. “I thought our ball movement was a lot better than it had been that first half.”
But Baylor struck back, going on a 12-0 run in a little over four minutes to re-gain the advantage and stretch it back up to nine points with three minutes left. Blackwell committed her fifth foul during that span, forcing her to watch from the bench for the rest of the way.
It looked as if the Tigers were out of it. But then they came back from the dead, going on an 8-0 run across 2:09 to make it a 69-68 game with 27.9 seconds left.
Hansen had two three-pointers and forward LaDazhia Williams hit a jumper during that push.
“We’ve got a lot of different kids that have some offensive firepower,” Pingeton said. “And so, I think that’s a testament to the balance that we have on this team.”
Though Pingeton’s squad couldn’t finish the comeback effort down the stretch, this Mizzou team showed its toughness, proving it can hang with the best in the country.
“This is what it’s all about,” Pingeton said. “You want competition, you want to compete with the best of the best. And I think the big takeaway for our team is it’s about the process, it really is. It can’t be outcome based; it’s got to be about the process.
“And if we can continue to learn and grow throughout the course of this long season, I think we got a chance to do something pretty special at the end of it.”