Three Mizzou seniors end home
careers with bang on Senior Day
March 4, 2019
COLUMBIA, Mo. --- It was a perfect beginning to this end for three Missouri seniors.
Sophie Cunningham ... bang! Made 3-pointer (no surprise) on his first attempt to give Missouri an early 3-0 lead against Alabama on Sunday.
Cierra Porter ... (smaller) bang! Made 12-foot jumper on her first attempt, giving the Tigers a 5-0 lead.
Lauren Aldridge ... bang! Made 3-pointer --- okay, it was her second attempt --- to give the Tigers an 18-3 lead with 1:10 left in the first quarter.
Sometimes, the right thing happens.
Those three players, who have meant so much to this program the last four years, went out the only way they should, with a bang --- an 82-47 rout of the Crimson Tide on Senior Day before an appreciative crowd of 6,527 at Mizzou Arena.
"My mindset was to just go out there and have fun, no matter what happens, if the shots are falling or not," Cunningham said. "I'm just so humbled and blessed to have the experience I've had here."
The 6-1 Cunningham --- who had team-high totals of 22 points and eight rebounds --- is a four-year starter and two-time All-SEC selection. She's logged over 4,000 minutes in her career, and is one of only three players in program history to surpass 2,000 career points.
Cunningham has a good shot to become the program's all-time leading scorer. With 2,082 points, she's only 37 points removed from second place (Renee Kelly, 2,119, 1983-87) and just 44 points away from taking over the top spot (Joni Davis, 2,126 points, 1981-85).
What a career. And Sophie has so many young fans who idolize her--- and they have her bobblehead to prove it. Cunningham has a message for them:
"It's okay to work hard, it's okay to be sweaty," she said. "I've always been the type of person who's had to work for what they want.
"Go knock those boys on their butts, that's what I did."
Gotta love Sophie.
Cunningham made the short trip from Rock Bridge to Mizzou Arena with Porter. The duo won four state championships with the Lady Bruins, and are now are on the verge of helping the Tigers earn their fourth straight berth in the NCAA Tournament.
"The wins are so fun," said the 6-4 Porter, who had 11 points and seven rebounds Sunday. "But the most special thing is definitely the relationships."
That was definitely the theme on this day --- family. The basketball game was just a reason to get together one last time at Mizzou Arena.
Porter rejoined the team in January, part of an amazing renaissance considering she'd 'retired' last year due to persistent knee injuries.
"I'm just so blessed that they welcomed me back with open arms; I'm blessed that all these people here care so much about me," said Porter, one of only nine players in program history with 1,000 points and 700 rebounds in her career.
"God put me where he wanted me."
The 5-7 Aldridge grew up in Marshfield, just outside of Springfield. And it's no surprise she's talented ---- her dad, Steve, was a three-sport star (football, basketball, baseball) for the Jefferson City Jays in the late 1980s, before playing college baseball at Missouri State.
After high school, Lauren played for two years at (cover your eyes) Kansas, before transferring to Mizzou for her final two seasons.
"I did come from the West," she said with a smile, "but I have been re-birthed as a Tiger. I'm not a fan of red and blue anymore, I bleed black and gold.
"It's just been the biggest blessing. It was the best decision I ever made in my life."
Aldridge had seven points and five assists against Alabama, and ended the regular season shooting a team-high 42 percent behind the arc. She's was second on team in 3-point attempts (122) and made 3's (51), trailing only Cunningham in both categories.
But once again, on this emotional day, basketball was secondary.
"The one thing I learned at Mizzou," Lauren said, "and coach (Robin) Pingeton will be very proud of me for saying this --- relationships are the most important thing, at the end of the day.
"These girls have become my sisters; this entire program is just one, big family. It's just been a joy."
It certainly has.
But it's not over. The Tigers (21-9, 10-6 SEC) are the No. 5 seed in this week's SEC Tournament in Greensville, S.C., and will play either Florida or Ole Miss at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. Then, of course, comes the Madness of the NCAA Tournament.
Here's hoping, and believing, the Tigers can finish with one more bang.
Missouri seniors (from left) Sophie Cunningham, Lauren Aldridge and Cierra Porter --- who have meant to much to this program --- had a grand finale on Sunday on Senior Day at Mizzou Arena.