Missouri fails to hold 20-point lead, loses in first round of WNIT

Hal William Estep

With 4:49 remaining in the third quarter Friday, Missouri women’s basketball led Fresno State by 20 after a 3-pointer from Aijha Blackwell. The Tigers were on a 7-0 run and looked like they were going to run away with the game and cruise to the second round of the WNIT.

The Bulldogs had other plans. Behind a surge fueled by top scorer Haley Cavinder and sharpshooter Yanina Todorova, Fresno State staged a comeback to defeat the Tigers 78-75 in Fort Worth, Texas.

By the end of the third, Fresno State had cut the 20-point deficit to 10, in large part thanks to Missouri’s Achilles’ heel being exposed once again. In that 4:49, the Tigers turned the ball over four times, allowing the Bulldogs more possessions to get back into the game.


“The amount of turnovers was unacceptable. At the end of the day, that falls on me.” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said.

In the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs inched their way closer, but Missouri always had an answer to stay ahead. Whether it was a layup from Haley Troup or a 3-pointer from Lauren Hansen, the Tigers kept themselves a step ahead until the last two minutes.

Troup got a contested layup to fall for the Tigers with 2:13 to go in the fourth, putting Missouri up 75-69. Those would be the last points Missouri scored. The Bulldogs’ regular-season leading scorers, Haley and Hanna Cavinder, hit jumpers to bring Fresno State within two points.

In the final 30 seconds, Haley Cavinder drove in for the Bulldogs and went up for a potential game-tying layup that didn’t fall. There was a scramble for the rebound, which Fresno State’s Wytalla Motta kicked out to the sharpshooting Todorova.

Todorova’s 3-point attempt hit the back iron, hung high above the basket and dropped in. With that, the Bulldogs took their first lead since early in the first quarter.

The Tigers still had a chance with 21 seconds remaining. Missouri put the ball in their own sharpshooter’s hands, with Lauren Hansen attempting a 3-pointer, but it didn’t find the net, and the Tigers were unable to get the offensive rebound.

Haley Cavinder hit two free throws to put the Tigers down three with 0.7 seconds to work with. Troup put up a prayer from almost halfcourt, but it was blocked by Todorova to end the game.

Missouri played tremendously from the second quarter through the 4:49 mark of the third. The Tigers looked like they had overcome the absence of Hayley Frank, who missed Friday’s matchup due to COVID-19 concerns. LaDazhia Williams went down early with what looked like an ankle injury, but returned halfway through the second quarter. Blackwell, Mama Dembele and Hansen each got into early foul trouble, and they overcame that to contribute to key moments later on. Yet the Tigers couldn’t hold onto the 20-point lead.

Missouri had 18 turnovers and was heavily outrebounded in the fourth quarter despite having a clear size advantage. The Tigers had given up 29 points in the first half only for the Bulldogs to drop 49 in the second half. Defensively, the Tigers looked like two completely different teams from the second quarter to the fourth.

“Clearly, we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror in this offseason and figure some things out, because we’ve got to be a much better team defensively moving forward,” Pingeton said.