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LSU is latest to step up in ultra-competitive SEC race

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LSU slides by No. 15 Missouri 69-65 (1:46)

The LSU Tigers snap Mizzou's 13-game winning streak behind Chloe Jackson's 22 points to earn an upset on the road. (1:46)

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- On a night tinged by the possibility of upsets in women's basketball, only one actually happened Thursday: LSU topped No. 15 Missouri 69-65. The black-and-gold Tigers saw their 13-game winning streak snapped, while the purple-and-gold Lady Tigers now have won eight in a row.

"I'm excited about our team taking a step forward," LSU coach Nikki Fargas said, "being able to come on the road and get a quality win."

LSU's next mission is even more daunting: Try to hand No. 5 Mississippi State its first loss this season. That will be one of the intriguing games Sunday in the SEC, which has two of the nation's four unbeaten teams. No. 7 Tennessee moved to 14-0 with a 70-59 victory over Auburn on Thursday. That score was tied at 57 with 2 minutes to go, but the Lady Vols closed on a 13-2 run.

Meanwhile in the ACC, No. 3 Louisville also stayed unbeaten but did it the opposite way: surviving a late rally. The Cardinals held off No. 17 Duke 66-60. Fellow ACC power Notre Dame, which got devastating injury news about point guard Lili Thompson, prevailed 83-76 against Miami. The Hurricanes had defeated Duke on Sunday, but fell to the No. 2 Irish, who learned Thompson is out for the rest of her final college season with an ACL injury suffered Sunday.

The Irish's ACL plague -- Brianna Turner (last March), Mychal Johnson, Mikayla Vaughn and now Thompson -- has left Notre Dame with just seven scholarship players. Thompson was the replacement for point guard Lindsay Allen, who graduated after last season.

Somehow, the Irish have kept plugging along; they travel to Georgia Tech on Sunday before the big ACC showdown next Thursday at Louisville (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). The Cardinals host Virginia Tech on Sunday.

While the Irish got the worst news about Thompson, Missouri got better news about star Sophie Cunningham, who also was injured in a Jan. 31 game. In her case, the knee injury was a sprain, and she's listed as day-to-day. But she had not been cleared to play on Thursday, and LSU's matchup zone took advantage of some Mizzou indecisiveness early to build a lead it was able to hold on to.

Afterward, Mizzou coach Robin Pingeton took the blame, saying she should have encouraged her team to be more aggressive in attacking from the start. But Mizzou forward Jordan Frericks -- who sat out last year with an ACL -- said that was more on the players themselves. Frericks finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds -- Fargas admiringly called her "a beast" inside -- and the redshirt senior also took the blame for a critical late turnover that really wasn't her fault.

It was that kind of leadership from Frericks and from sophomore Amber Smith -- who had a career-high 27 points against the school from her home state of Louisiana -- that might prove a little silver lining to the cloud of being without Cunningham: Other people came forward.

"We've experienced similar issues," Fargas said, referencing the 2015-16 season when LSU got down to six players due to injuries. "It's very hard to replace your best player. But what happens is different players step up.

"Not that you want this to happen (with injuries), but sometimes you find players playing above their (normal) play. We worried about facing Sophie, because she's such a talent. It's hard to replace what she brings, not only from a scoring standpoint, but her toughness, her energy. She plays with a high motor."

Mizzou hopes to have her back Sunday when No. 4 South Carolina comes to town (ESPN2, 2 p.m. ET). Cunningham scored the winning basket in the closing seconds last year against the Gamecocks at Mizzou; that 62-60 loss on Feb. 19 was South Carolina's last defeat of what ended as a national championship season.

South Carolina and Mississippi State both had routine victories Thursday. The Gamecocks beat Mississippi 88-62 behind 25 points and 15 rebounds from A'ja Wilson, while the Bulldogs pounded Arkansas 111-69. Guards Victoria Vivians (29 points) and Morgan William (season-high 18) led the way for Mississippi State, which is 16-0.

It sets up an intriguing perimeter matchup at LSU on Sunday (SEC Network, 2 p.m. ET), as the Tigers are led by guards Raigyne Louis and Chloe Jackson, who combined for 38 points against Missouri. They lead LSU (10-3), as Louis is averaging 16.3 PPG and Jackson 16.2.

"I think two players understand: Jackson and Louis," Fargas said of the significance of beating a ranked team on the road, and the confidence boost that should give LSU in facing Mississippi State. "Everybody else, they're so young, I don't even think they realize what they did. It's a great way to go into going back home. But Mississippi State is totally different in their style."

Indeed, because the Bulldogs also have 6-foot-7 center Teaira McCowan, who is averaging 20.1 PPG and 12.3 rebounds, and is shooting 65.7 percent from the field. Vivians is leading Mississippi State in scoring (20.4), and she's also shooting a career-high 55 percent from the field.

Still, Fargas feels good especially about the play of Jackson and Louis, whom she considers equally capable as offensive and defensive threats.

"They have been so consistent," Fargas said. "They give you that level of play; if we can keep games close, we have a shot at winning because those two can make baskets. And they have the ability to make other people shine."