TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Missouri has already reached one milestone in NCAA Tournament play, but the sixth-seeded Tigers will be looking to take another big step in Sunday’s second-round game against No. 3 Florida State.
With Friday’s 66-64 come-from-behind win over South Florida, Missouri (22-10) has won tournament games in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history but has not made it past the second round since 2001.
“We’ve been through the ups and down of this program and its really cool to see the fruits of our labor pay off,” senior guard Lindsey Cunningham said. “Part of being in game mode is looking back and realizing how great this journey has been for us.”
Senior Sierra Michaelis, who made the game-winning shot against South Florida, said they were in awe of getting to the second round last year but this year it is more of a sense of belonging.
Missouri coach Robin Pingeton, who is the Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year, has built a program that can consistently contend by keeping talent in state. Eight of the players, including the starting five, are from Missouri.
The two leading scorers are sophomores. Guard Sophie Cunningham was a first-team, All-SEC selection after averaging 17.5 points and forward Cierra Porter averages 13.2 points and 8.1 rebounds.
“It helps that you now have veteran kids who have been through this. We’re experienced but we’re still pretty young,” Pingeton said. “We understand it is survive and advance but it is a fine line between playing not to lose and playing to win. We have to enjoy the moment.”
The Tigers could give the Seminoles problems due to their 3-point shooting. They led the conference with 221 made and average 7.1 3-pointers per game.
Missouri was 8 of 24 from beyond the arc in the win over South Florida, but was 3 of 7 in the fourth quarter. Florida State (26-6) was 11th in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 3-point defense (33.1 percent) and have allowed 10 or more in two of the past three games, including 11 on Friday to Western Illinois.
What gives Florida State guard Ivey Slaughter and the rest of the team confidence is that only four of the 3-pointers came after halftime, as the Seminoles were able to break open a close game to win 87-66.
“We talked a lot about adjusting because we are not used to playing five out and all of their players shooting threes,” Slaughter said. “We’re used to helping, recover, and getting back. So I think we had to adjust really well on that part of the defense and I think we did a really good job.”
The winner advances to next weekend’s Sweet 16 in Stockton, California. Florida State is trying to make it for the third straight year for the first time in program history.
Some other things to know about the Missouri-Florida State matchup:
MISSOURI LINEUP NOTE: Lianna Doty is likely to return to Missouri’s starting lineup. The senior guard, who is averaging 4.1 points per game, played only 20 minutes on Friday night as Amber Smith got the start. Smith, who started for the first time since Dec. 2 against Missouri State, had nine points in 24 minutes.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Missouri’s Porter vs. Florida State’s Shakayla Thomas. Both players had double-doubles in leading their teams to wins on Friday. Porter had 11 points and 12 rebounds for her 12th double-double this season. Thomas, who is the ACC Player of the Year, scored 23 points and tied a career-high with 14 rebounds.
HOME COURT ADVANTAGE: Florida State is 2-0 in NCAA second-round games that have taken place at the Tucker Center. It defeated St. John’s 69-65 in overtime in 2010 and then beat Florida Gulf Coast 65-47 in 2015. The Seminoles would end up making it to the Elite Eight both seasons.
THE ONLY ONE: Florida State senior guard Leticia Romero is the only women’s player in Division I shooting 50 percent from the field and 3-point range along with 90 percent from the line. Romero, who is averaging 12.2 points, is making 50 percent from the field, 51.5 percent on 3-pointers and 91.3 percent from the line.
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