LSU guard Alexis Morris hadn’t been feeling well lately, an illness forcing her to play sparingly in the Tigers’ recent win over Kentucky, and coach Kim Mulkey was prepared to go without the senior against Missouri on Thursday night.
Morris had other ideas.
Finally feeling a bit better, she proceeded to hit five 3-pointers and score 24 points, helping fifth-ranked LSU survive Angel Reese’s foul trouble and a second-half lull for a 77-57 victory that extended the best start in school history.
”We couldn’t really tell you what her problem was, just didn’t have energy, wasn’t feeling good,” Mulkey said. ”She had a good night considering she’s been kind of out of sync with how she’s been feeling the last four or five days.”
Reese eventually added 20 points and 12 rebounds, keeping her season-long double-double streak intact, and Jasmine Carter also had 12 points to help LSU (17-0, 5-0 SEC) overcome 19 turnovers against the pesky Missouri defense.
”Turnovers are about to give me more gray hair and wrinkles,” Mulkey said. ”You can’t harp on it too much throughout the course of the game, but in practice you have to clean it up, and then I go home and I lay in the bed and I’m like, `I don’t know anything else to do but hold them accountable in practice.”’
Lauren Hansen hit four 3-pointers and scored 22 points to lead Missouri (14-4, 3-2), which has now lost back-to-back games after three straight wins to open league play. Mama Dembele also had 11 points.
LSU has dominated first halves this season, leading by double digits in each game, and Thursday was no different.
Mulkey’s team jumped to a 9-2 lead, built it to 19-7 by the end of the first quarter – the second straight game Missouri failed to score 10 points over the first 10 minutes – and eventually pushed its advantage to 37-21 by halftime.
All of that sounds familiar. How the Tigers of the bayou got to that point was a little bit different.
Player of the year candidate Reese, with double-doubles in every game so far this season, picked up two early fouls and had just four points and four boards at the break. LaDazhia Williams, who transferred to LSU after spending the past two seasons at Missouri, also sat most of the first half with two fouls.
So instead of dominating inside, LSU began pitching in 3-pointers. Morris was 4 for 4 from the arc, two of them in a span of three possessions, and her team was 7 of 11 on 3-pointers over the first 20 minutes.
LSU tried to get Reese going when she returned in the third quarter, but Missouri kept doubling her in the paint, and she produced a series of turnovers and missed shots. Robin Pingeton’s team took advantage of LSU’s letup, outscoring its top-5 opponent 17-5 to start the third quarter and claw back into the game.
”We got it down to four,” Pingeton said, ”and I liked the looks we got. We just weren’t able to connect on them.”
Indeed, after watching an 18-point lead dwindle to a 42-38 advantage with 4:43 left in the third quarter, LSU responded with a 14-3 run to regain control. And Mulkey’s team was never seriously threatened over the final 10 minutes.
”I mean, they’re just so well balanced,” Pingeton said. ”They have really good athleticism. They’ve got length. You know, they rebound so well; I thought we actually did a pretty darn good job on the boards against them. We knew we’d have to take some chances and they shot it at a really high rate from the 3-point line tonight.”
LSU was able to overcome its turnover trouble with hot shooting from the perimeter and, when Missouri finally extended to the 3-point line, easy baskets in the paint. Those turnovers will be harder to overcome against the nation’s top teams.
Missouri, which hit 15 3-pointers in an overtime loss to LSU last season, needed more sharp shooting to hang around. But after missing 23 straight shots in a loss to Arkansas last weekend, the Tigers finished just 6 of 23 from beyond the arc.
LSU begins a two-game homestand with Auburn on Sunday. Missouri visits the Gamecocks the same day.
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