Missouri-Texas Preview

Missouri-Texas Preview

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 1:12 p.m. ET

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) When Texas coach Karen Aston scans the muscular Missouri lineup, all she sees is size - lots of it.

And after watching the No. 10 Tigers physically pummel No. 7 BYU, Aston knows the No. 2 seed Longhorns are going to have their hands full Monday night, especially with Missouri's 6-foot-1 freshman guard Sophie Cunningham. The winner earns a berth in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 and a trip to the Bridgeport, Connecticut regional.

Cunningham scored 20 against BYU when Missouri (22-9) forced the Cougars to match her with smaller guards and couldn't stop her in the post. It's a formula that has worked all season when the Tigers could get the mismatch. Cunningham set a school record with 42 points against Wake Forest in November and led the Tigers in scoring this season with a 13.5-point average.

But it doesn't stop with Cunningham. Missouri's entire starting lineup is 6-0 or taller.


Texas (29-4) is no stranger to playing big teams from the Big 12, but Missouri's physical stature is still impressive, Aston said.

''It's a concern,'' Aston said. ''They have the offensive concepts of how to mismatch you ... The most glaring difference between the teams is they have so much size at the guard position,''

Texas brings its own size mismatch in 6-foot-7 senior center Imani Boyette, the Big 12 co-defensive player of the year, the first player in school history with 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 200 blocks.

The key to giving Cunningham freedom of movement inside and out will be to draw Boyette toward the perimeter. When Missouri did that against BYU, Cunningham made all six of her third-quarter shots, most of them from point-blank range at the basket.

''We have to be on point with our motion offense, try to draw their bigs away from the basket a little bit,'' Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said.

Both programs see reaching the Sweet 16 as a critical step.

For Texas, anything less would be a step backward. The Longhorns made the Sweet 16 last year before a 51-point loss to Connecticut. They came back from that defeat to storm through most of the regular season, with three of their four losses coming against one opponent: Big 12 champion Baylor.

Missouri hasn't reached the Sweet 16 since 2001 and getting back there would a breakthrough for Pingeton, something that didn't look possible when the Tigers' good regular season nearly crashed with a three-game losing streak before the NCAA Tournament.

''You're 21-9 and feel like you're 9-21. That's a tough pill to swallow,'' Pingeton said. ''You come back and you talk about all the great things your team has accomplished, and all the growth that we've had again as a program. And our then our kids just flat-out got after it.''


FAMILY AFFAIR: Missouri is the only Division I program with three sets of sisters in Maddie and Morgan Stock, Linsdsey and Sophie Cunningham and Bri and Cierra Porter. The Porter sisters are also the daughter of assistant coach Michael Porter who also happens to be Pingeton's brother-in-law, which makes them Pingeton's nieces.

''It's pretty unique and it's pretty special,'' Pingeton said.

The Cunninghams rank 1-2 on the team in assists. The Stock twins are two of the top 3-point shooters in program history. Cierra Porters averages nine points.

''A lot of people would think there would be a lot fights in the locker room because we're all sisters, but that's not the case,'' Sophie Cunningham said. ''I think having that blood-related chemistry spreads throughout the whole team. Now we're all sisters.


The Longhorns will need to avoid the sort of slow start that allowed No. 15 seed Alabama State to stay with Texas in the first half Saturday night. Texas led by 10 at halftime and didn't break the game open until a dominant third quarter.

''I think most of IT was they were a little too jacked up,'' Aston said. ''Their energy level was good but they weren't playing smart.''