Unranked Mizzou shocks No. 1 S.C. on final shot

    Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The top-ranked South Carolina women’s basketball team lost its first game of the season, falling 70-69 in overtime at Missouri on Thursday in both schools’ SEC opener.

It was the Tigers’ first win over a No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll; they previously were 0-8 in such matchups.

The loss ended South Carolina’s streak of 43 victories in a row against unranked teams, which had been the longest active streak in Division I. It’s the seventh time since the 1999-2000 season that an unranked team has beaten a No. 1 in D-I women’s basketball.

“We’ve got to play with better pace,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “We have to do a better job getting our post players the ball when they are as efficient as they are. We’ve got to hit shots; we’ve got to take good shots.

“Our defense has to be better, because it’s been better, but Missouri spread us out and they make you guard the 3-point line and all the motion in between that.”

The Tigers won despite a limited roster because of COVID-19 protocol. The absent Tigers players included Missouri’s leading scorer and rebounder, Aijha Blackwell, who averages a double-double (16.6 PPG, 12.7 RPG).

Eight Tigers players were available but just seven played Thursday night, led by forward Hayley Frank and guard Lauren Hansen with 21 points each.

Hansen hit the game-winning layup with 0.1 of a second left in overtime, using a screen by Frank to get free from South Carolina defender Brea Beal. Hansen, a junior guard, came into the game averaging 10.5 PPG.

“Honestly, I’m still in shock,” said Hansen, a native of Long Island, New York, who played her freshman season at Auburn before transferring to Mizzou.

Frank, a Missouri native who won four state championships and 115 consecutive games at Strafford High School, said, “We had belief in the eight we had available, and we didn’t stop believing for 45 minutes. This is the kind of game that I came to Mizzou for.”

Both teams called timeouts before the final tick of the clock, and the ball was lobbed inside to South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston. Her layup went in, but it was after the buzzer.

The Tigers and their crowd of 6,139 — which included former Tiger and current WNBA player Sophie Cunningham, back in her hometown for the holidays — celebrated. Cunningham, Missouri’s all-time leading scorer, made the winning shot with 0.6 seconds left when the Tigers beat South Carolina 62-60 in February 2017.

Missouri is now 4-8 against the Gamecocks, with all the wins — the others were in 2013 and 2018 — coming at home.

“I have so much respect for Dawn and that program,” said coach Robin Pingeton, who got her 200th victory at Missouri on Dec. 22 vs. Illinois. “She has done so much for women’s basketball, and I am so thankful for that. She’s put together a phenomenal team with how unselfish they are.”

But the Gamecocks (12-1) struggled offensively all game, making just 38.2% of their shots. Boston, a national player of the year candidate, led the Gamecocks with 17 points.

“We’re going to learn that we have to come out strong at the start of each game,” Boston said. “It’s a learning experience, and we’re going to bounce back from it. I have no doubt in my mind we’ll be able to bounce back and keep the train rolling.”

Mizzou finished 7-of-15 from 3-point range (46.7%) and shot 43.1% overall from the field.

South Carolina, considered a big favorite to win the SEC, defeated six ranked opponents in nonconference play, five who were in the top 10 when the Gamecocks faced them: UConn, Stanford, NC State, Maryland and Oregon. They also beat then-No. 15 Duke.

The Gamecocks had not lost since the national semifinals last season when they fell to eventual champion Stanford 66-65 in San Antonio.

The Tigers (12-2) nearly knocked off then-No. 5 Baylor, but fell 70-68 on Dec. 4. Missouri’s other loss was at in-state rival Missouri State, 79-51 on Dec. 10. The Tigers are undefeated at Mizzou Arena this season.

“I’m just excited for our players, that they get this experience,” Pingeton said. “You don’t get a chance to play a No. 1 team very often, let alone beat them. This is something they’ll remember for a lifetime. How cool is that?”

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