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Tigers get second chance against Vanderbilt in first round of SEC tournament

This year marks Missouri’s winningest season since coach Robin Pingeton took over.

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Missouri coach Robin Pingeton yells to her players in December at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers beat No. 14 South Carolina 65-58 on Thursday.

Maneater File Photo

March 5, 2013

In the midst of celebrating Missouri’s Senior Night victory over No. 14 South Carolina, coach Robin Pingeton didn’t give any thought to the upcoming conference tournament.

“I can assure you the furthest thing from my mind tonight is postseason,” Pingeton said Thursday.

The Tigers had just topped the visiting Gamecocks 65-58 in their last home game of the regular season.

“You always want to send your seniors off on a good note,” Pingeton said. “But we’re not ready to talk about the end yet.”

Coming off Sunday’s 88-64 win at Alabama and the end of the regular season, Pingeton will have just a couple days to prepare her team for the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Missouri (17-13, 6-10 SEC) claimed the tenth seed in the SEC tournament and will play seventh-seeded Vanderbilt (19-10, 9-7 SEC) at 5 p.m. Thursday. The game will be a rematch, as Missouri looks to avenge a 62-46 loss to the Commodores from earlier this season.

The Tigers were originally in a three-way tie for the eighth seed, but a tiebreaker of best winning percentage of games played among the tied teams placed Arkansas (18-11, 6-10 SEC, 2-1 tiebreaker) and Florida (17-13, 6-10 SEC, 1-1 tiebreaker) above Missouri (1-2 tiebreaker) in the eighth and ninth-seeded spots, respectively.

The winner of Thursday’s contest will match up against No. 2 seed Kentucky at 5 p.m. Friday. Conference semifinals will take place on Saturday, and the championship game will be held Sunday. All SEC tournament games will be played at the Gwinnett Arena in Duluth, Ga.

As Pingeton has stressed all season long, her focus is on "staying true to the process” of building a strong program at Missouri. Whether it’s new players, a new league or a combination of both, the Tigers have made considerable progress, especially in comparison to last season. Just a year ago, Missouri finished with a conference record of 2-16, dead last in the Big 12.

In spite of having a young team that includes five freshmen on a roster of 12 active players, Pingeton remains steadfast on laying a foundation and building a program for years to come.

“We’re young, we’re inexperienced, and we’re playing in a brand-new league,” Pingeton said. “We’re in year three of building a program.”

Since moving to the SEC, Pingeton’s team has seen improvement. Sunday’s win over Alabama marked the first 17-win season since 2006-07. The victory also gave the Tigers their sixth conference win, the most they’ve earned since finishing 10-6 in Big 12 play during the 2005-06 season.

“This league’s tough, and we’ve been right there.” Pingeton said. “We lost by five, we lost by eight, we lost in overtime. We’ve been right there with a young, inexperienced team in a new league. And for (the players) to continue to stay the course and stay true to it, I’m really proud of them.”

But when asked point-blank on Thursday about whether she’d address the postseason, Pingeton responded “No, not really,” chuckling as she shrugged off the question.

“We’ve got some work to do yet,” Pingeton said. “We’ve had some big wins and a lot of teachable moments this year. We’ve hit some peaks and valleys. We’re just going to continue to stay the course and build this program on a strong, strong foundation, and I believe we’re doing that.”

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