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Columbia, Mo. – The University of Missouri women’s basketball team outlasted Illinois State 61-51 in the opening round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, Thursday night inside Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers (18-13, 6-10 SEC) earned their sixth-ever WNIT victory in their 10th postseason appearance in 11 years.
Senior forward Hayley Frank led the way against head coach Robin Pingeton’s former Redbirds (24-9, 17-3 MVC), for whom she coached from 2003-10. The captain finished with 15 points, six assists, five boards and two steals.
Junior guard Sara-Rose Smith added 13 points and 11 rebounds for her sixth double-double of the season.
Two early triples from Frank gave the Tigers an 11-4 advantage out of the gate. The two squads proceeded to trade buckets and defensive stands as Mizzou maintained the lead heading into the second period of play. The Tigers assisted on each of the team’s first six buckets.
Defensive physicality slowed the scoring early in the second stanza, but a deep ball from Smith ignited a 9-0 run midway through the interval and stretched the Tiger lead to double-digits. Illinois State responded with a 7-0 run of its own to claw back, but a buzzer-beater by graduate guard Katlyn Gilbert sent the Tigers into the break up five.
The second half started much like the first half ended, a methodical defensive slugfest where neither team gained a clear advantage. However, a pair of layups from Frank sparked an 11-2 Tiger spurt to close the quarter. Missouri held the Redbirds to just one made field goal in the second half of the period.
Illinois State made several advances at a comeback in the fourth, but a clutch 8-of-8 performance at the charity stripe held Illinois State at bay as Mizzou earned its first postseason victory since the opening round of the 2019 Women’s NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers held the Missouri Valley regular season champions to just 31.9% shooting on the day, including only 3-of-14 from outside the arc.
Mizzou will play the winner between Kansas and Western Kentucky in Round 2 of the WNIT. Official game time and location will be announced at a later date.