Cunningham’s 35 Points Not Enough as No. 5 Missouri Comes Up Short Against No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast

Josiah Schueneman, 23 Sports Reporter

Sophie Cunningham tied a season high with 35 points, but the offense of No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast proved to be too much, upsetting No. 5 seed Missouri 80-70 on Saturday in the Stanford Region.

China Dow was fantastic off the bench for the Eagles, leading the team in scoring with 21 points. Rose Julien, who came into the contest as the team’s top scorer, put up 12 points while Erica Nelson added 11. Florida Gulf Coast’s offensive attack was efficient throughout the game as they shot 49% from the field. Despite not having a single player at six feet or taller, the Eagles managed to stay competitive with the Tigers on the glass, grabbing 32 boards to Missouri’s 36.

Sophie Cunningham turned in one of her best games as a Tiger, dropping 35 points while knocking down 14 free throws out of 16 attempts. The Eagles defense did not have much of an answer for her as she had her way in the painted area, scoring off of several post entries. Despite her tremendous play, she did not get enough help from her teammates. Lauren Aldridge posted nine points while shooting just one of six from the field. Jordan Frericks and Cierra Porter both struggled to stay on the floor with foul trouble. Cunningham was the only player with double figures for the Tigers, and while she shot 10 of 16 from field goal range, the rest of the team was just 11 of 36.

The first quarter was back and forth until FGCU started clogging the paint defensively and held Missouri without a field goal the final 4:21 of the quarter. The Eagles scored six unanswered to finish the first and led by four going into the second. They began to extend their lead in the following quarter, but Cunningham managed to keep the Tigers within striking distance as she continuously forced the issue in the paint. Despite the effort to cut into the deficit, China Dow knocked down a three late in the quarter and FGCU led 41-32 at the half.

The Tigers started to gain momentum in the second half and trailed by just four with 2:13 left in the third after a Lauren Aldridge triple. Immediately afterwards, however, Tytionia Adderly answered with a trey of her own and her team led 61-53 going into the fourth. The Tigers tried to shoot their way back into the ballgame, but could not put any runs together and thanks to key free throws down the stretch, FGCU hung on to complete the upset. There was an abundance of whistles in this game as both teams combined to attempt 65 free throws.

Florida Gulf Coast won an NCAA game for the first time since defeating Oklahoma State in 2015, and will face the winner of No. 4 seed Stanford and 13th-seeded Gonzaga.

For Missouri, they are eliminated from the tournament and will start preparation for the 2018-19 season.