COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Ole Miss women's basketball did its best to slow down a high-powered Missouri team and received another high scoring output from senior Crystal Allen, but the Tigers were lights-out from the field and prevailed, 78-55, to open SEC play at Mizzou Arena on Thursday night.
The Rebels (6-9, 0-1 SEC) started a brand-new lineup that included three freshmen in order to facilitate a defensive look designed to slow down All-American Sophie Cunningham (14 points, five rebounds, five assists), but the Tigers (12-3, 1-0 SEC) shot 65.9 percent on the 41 hard-fought looks they received.
"I understand that in order to win games in the SEC we have to be tough," said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. "As far as the overall game I thought we did some stuff well, but obviously we need to do some stuff better."
The strategy had some early moments, as the Rebels only trailed by four at the end of the first quarter (19-15) and had held Cunningham without a field goal throughout the first 12:26 of play (and only four field goal attempts by game's end altogether), but the Columbia native nailed back-to-back threes to spark a 21-6 second quarter by the Tigers. Two more Tigers were in double-digits tonight alongside Cunningham: Amber Smith (18 points, 8-of-10 FG) and Jordan Roundtree (10 points).
"We couldn't get back in the game," McPhee-McCuin said. "I feel like our game plan worked for the most part. They have a two-headed monster and I wanted to take away one of them. I feel like we made her (Sophie) earn everything that she got. We made her work."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mizzou showed a formidable defensive front that held Ole Miss to 32.8 percent from the field overall and kept the Rebels off the free throw line at 8-of-9 from the charity stripe.
Crystal Allen was the workhorse yet again for the Rebels, dropping 25 points on 9-of-24 shooting in 36 hard minutes played. Allen has scored in double-digits in 13 of her 15 games played as a Rebel, and she has tallied 20 or more in six contests this season. Tonight's performance follows an extraordinary career day vs. North Florida on Dec. 28, in which she scored 34 points and hit nine three-pointers – both the most by anyone in the SEC this season. For her efforts, she was named the SEC Player of the Week.
Taylor Smith (six points, seven rebounds, 35 minutes) and Gabby Crawford (two points, three rebounds, 28 minutes) received their first career starts, alongside Mahogany Matthews (four points, third career start), Cecilia Muhate and Crystal Allen in the starting lineup. Senior Shandricka Sessom contributed seven points off the bench.
Ole Miss returns to Oxford for its SEC home opener vs. Arkansas on Jan. 6. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. CT inside The Pavilion, and the game will air live on SEC Network.
"A game like this is going to pay off," McPhee-McCuin said. "Sometimes you need to get beat up to say, 'I don't like how that feels, so I am not going to let that happen again.' We hadn't had that too much. We have been in a lot of games. The only team that dismantled us was UConn."