Behind Missouri women’s basketball postseason preparation

The three steps the women’s basketball team is taking in preparation for the big dance.

Redshirt junior Lianna Doty applauds her teammates from the sidelines on Feb. 11 in the game against Alabama. It was just announced on March 14 that the Women's basketball team will be playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. Maneater File Photo

This time last season, the Missouri women’s basketball team was sitting around coach Robin Pingeton’s house, eyes glued to the television during Selection Monday. They were on the outside looking in.

While watching other teams celebrate their success, the overall mindset of the team was, “That's going to be us next year,” according to senior Morgan Stock.

Their previous small gathering was much different from Monday’s long-awaited watch party. It was not the same anticipation. It was not the same venue. It was not the same outcome.

The Tigers will be playing BYU this Saturday in the opening round in the NCAA women’s tournament. It’s the program’s first trip to the tournament in 10 years.

This year, fans filled the seats of Mizzou Arena, the same seats from which they saw the Tigers’ resilient upset against No. 6 Mississippi State and the devastating senior day loss that concluded the regular season. Despite a roller-coaster conference schedule, the fans were there for a reason. The team was certain to get an invite for the dance.

But how prepared are the players? What did the team do in between its first round Southeastern Conference tournament loss to Auburn and Monday’s watch party?

Here are the three main takeaways from Missouri’s time leading up to the big dance:

R&R After nearly fourth months of practices and games back to back with virtually no break, a little relaxation was just what the Tigers needed — especially after the way they went out.

With three losses rounding out the season after a stretch of what Pingeton described as some of the best basketball they’d played, the Tigers needed a break to take a step back. It was time to remember what they’d done right and get back to that.

“I think after a tough loss like that, a tough end of the season stretch, it takes some time to get proper perspective,” Pingeton said. “When you allow yourself a chance to exhale and really look at the resume of what this season looked like and the great accomplishments we’ve had, I’m really proud of them.”

For redshirt junior Lindsey Cunningham, that week off included two trips to the gym, a visit to her family farm and lots of sleep. Each player rejuvenated in different ways to achieve the same goal.

“It's good for all of us mentally — we’re around each other a lot — to get away from each other, to get away from here,” she said. “It's a good break physically as well. You come back refreshed, new legs and just a new spirit about ourselves that gets us going again.”

Working out the kinks In the past, the players have come into these postseason practices with a sense of uncertainty whether they even had a postseason to practice for. This year was different for the first time in a long time.

Across the board, players and coaches alike commented Friday that they were pretty confident for Selection Monday but didn’t want to get their hopes up. Regardless, they knew they were in, whether it be the big dance or the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, they would have a postseason.

With this knowledge, fresh legs and rejuvenated mindsets from the time off, the team took to the courts hard, determined to work out the little things.

“You know what, we’ve had probably the best five practices we’ve had all year, and I mean that,” freshman Sophie Cunningham said after Selection Monday. “I think there was probably one or two in the regular season, so this is our time to come back.”

According to Lindsey Cunningham, “There’s nothing major we have to change.”

Looking ahead, it’s all about the little things. Of course, the most consistent flaws throughout the season, flaring up again toward the end, were their turnovers. And for those, they run.

There are no easy fixes, but Pingeton assured that the offense is certainly a “work in progress.”

Taking a step back Despite a rocky conference schedule, Pingeton wanted her players to remember what they’d achieved throughout the season, not staying hung up on the way things ended.

It all started with game one and ended with nonconference as the Tigers marked the longest streak in the program’s history, 13–0. Then there was Sophie Cunningham receiving the SEC Freshman of the Week award over and over and over again, eventually setting the conference record with six weekly titles. Finally, on the same night junior Jordan Frericks scored her 1000th point, Pingeton won her 100th game.

“Coach’s biggest thing was stepping back and realizing all we’d accomplished this year and making sure we all felt good about the things we’d done this year,” Lindsey said. “We crossed off a lot of things that hadn’t been done here in some cases ever or in a really long time. I think the biggest thing for us was to step back and realize how much we’d accomplished regardless how those last few games ended up for us.”

Perhaps the most important of their feats came on Selection Monday when the Tigers found out they will dance for the first time in a decade.

Now, after conquering its goal of making the postseason, the team will continue with its baby step method.

“We take that day to day approach and won't get too far ahead of ourselves,” Pingeton said. “Even the last couple of weeks that’s been a great reminder of dialing in on one game at a time. Control what you can control. March Madness — anything can happen and you better be prepared to play for 40 minutes. You have no time to look ahead.”

Edited by Alec Lewis | alewis@themaneater.com

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