Women's basketball border battle heats up again with high stakes

Mar. 6—When the Missouri Southern State University women's basketball team tips off at noon Friday in the quarterfinal of the MIAA Championship, it will be facing a familiar tourney foe in its border rival — the Pittsburg State University Gorillas.

Everything about the match-up signals a highly competitive game between the two teams.

They have met twice during the regular season, with each team garnering a win on their opponent's court.

Fourth-seeded Missouri Southern (20-8, 16-6) claimed the first game this season, 71-65, on Jan. 6, when PSU (21-7, 15-7) was ranked 13th in the nation.

The Lions used a balanced attack, with four players in double figures, and logged 30 points off their bench.

MSSU used a strong start at John Lance Arena to jump out to a 7-point lead after the first quarter, and the teams played nearly even the rest of the game.

The Gorillas (21-7, 15-7) got their revenge Feb. 7 at Leggett & Platt with a 77-66 win over the Lions.

Southern held a 5-point lead after the first quarter, but PSU rallied for a 34-32 halftime lead. After an even third quarter, PSU outscored the Lions in the fourth quarter to claim the win.

That game featured 16 lead changes and 12 ties. Kryslyn Jones was the only Lion in double figures with 19 points, and PSU controlled the boards, outrebounding the Lions 43-27.

Grace Pyle led the Gorillas with 20 points, Karenna Gerber had 18 and Macie Mays contributed 17.

The teams are 5-5 in their last 10 meetings and are familiar opponents in postseason play.

Last season, MSSU and Pitt State also faced off in the quarterfinals of the MIAA tourney at Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium, with MSSU then the No. 5 seed and the Gorillas coming in as the fourth-seed. Southern won that game 75-61 after dropping both its regular season games (87-79 and 74-64) to the Gorillas.

After Southern eliminated the Gorillas in last year's MIAA tourney, the teams met again in the first round of the NCAA Division II Central Region Tournament, with the Lions prevailing 73-64 in Duluth, Minnesota.

The Lions advanced to the Central Region Championship before falling 2 points shy of a trip to the Elite 8 after losing 77-76 to host team Minnesota-Duluth.

Southern and Pitt are coming into Friday's matchup after tough losses — PSU fell 68-61 last Saturday to No. 19 Missouri Western, the MIAA regular season champion, and the Lions dropped a 69-62 game to Northwest Missouri State, the No. 2 seed in this year's MIAA tourney.

Both teams enter this year's tourney looking to find their footing after facing top-tier MIAA teams in the late stages of the MIAA regular season.

After a 15-game win streak, the Lions have gone 3-3 in their last six games; PSU put together a seven-game win streak before going 2-2 to finish the season.