There's no question that Missouri is missing the usual dominance of Sophie Cunningham. But right now, Amber Smith is doing plenty to ease that burden.
One of the Tigers' key pieces came through in a big way in Morgantown, West Virginia, on Sunday afternoon, as Smith posted career highs in points and rebounds to lead Missouri (6-2) to a 68-51 victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
The Tigers dominated in two key stretches of the contest: the second quarter and the final five minutes of the game. In the second period, the Mountaineers went just 2 of 16 from the field, allowing the Tigers to outscore their opponents 14-6 and take a 34-23 lead into halftime. A three from Smith as the final buzzer sounded at the end of the third quarter maintained Missouri's 11-point lead going into the final 10 minutes of play.
In the fourth, the Tigers were just as solid, holding the Mountaineers to no field goals over the final 5:12 of the game to secure the victory.
Missouri collected its third straight win despite another poor performance from Cunningham, who posted four points, one rebound and one assist in just 18 minutes of play. She was limited for the entirety of the game due to foul trouble, and fouled out with 2:37 remaining in the contest after taking three shots all game.
The Tigers didn't miss Cunningham much, though, thanks largely to Smith's brilliance. Missouri's most consistent player this season poured in 28 points and collected 13 rebounds. She was on target from deep, going 4-for-6 from the three-point line, and also made four of her five free-throw attempts. All told, the junior guard finished 10 of 15 from the field and turned the ball over just once despite playing 37 of the 40 minutes in the contest.
Smith also lead the charge on the defensive end, recording three blocks and two steals and altering countless Mountaineer shots by contesting virtually all of their layup attempts. Her rebounds made an impact, as well, and allowed her to collect her fourth double-double of the season.
The Tigers only posted five blocks and three steals total, but their stout defense kept the Mountaineers out of rhythm for the entirety of the contest. West Virginia posted season-low marks in field goal percentage (28 percent), three-point percentage (28 percent) and points (51). It was an especially impressive performance for Missouri, considering West Virginia entered the contest averaging 85.8 points per game and received 59 votes in this week's Associated Press top 25 poll.
In addition to Smith, Missouri also got encouraging scoring performances from two of its role players. Coming off the bench, redshirt freshman Haley Troup had her best game to date, scoring 14 points and gathering six rebounds in a career-high 18 minutes of play. Junior guard Jordan Chavis also performed well, posting an 11-point game while providing valuable minutes on the defensive end as one of Missouri's four starting guards.
Missouri will be back home on Thursday at 7 p.m. to take on UMKC.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.