Tigers deal with disappointment, look at WNIT as opportunity

Missouri to face Creighton in first round.

Freshman guard Sierra Michaelis got a text message. That was all.

The Missouri women’s basketball team would play Creighton at 7 p.m. in Omaha, Neb., for the opening round of the WNIT.

No team gathering. No collective celebration.

“We didn’t do the cool thing,” Michaelis said.

For a team that spent much of the year speaking of NCAA tournament hopes, the Tigers are dealing with the reality of the WNIT. They said that while they are disappointed, they maintain a positive outlook.

“I think we’re going to take this as a great opportunity to make our program grow, and we can grow,” sophomore guard Morgan Stock said. “And it’s postseason, so it’s going to be fun no matter what.”

Michaelis said the chance to win basketball games is what keeps the Tigers excited.

“We can still get a banner and everything,” Michaelis said. “They’re games. We want to win.”

Still, though, the Tigers acknowledge they didn’t come into the season wanting to play in the WNIT.

Senior forward Bri Kulas, who was named to the AP all-Southeastern Conference second team Tuesday, said she had to adjust her goals after Mizzou’s opening-round loss in the SEC Tournament to Mississippi State that all but sealed their WNIT bid. Kulas now looks at the WNIT as another step for a program that considers itself to be rebuilding.

“I mean, honestly, looking at the situation, and Missouri being a team that is in the process of building, I think that is part of the reason I came here,” Kulas said. “To make it into the NIT is a big accomplishment in itself. Obviously I would’ve liked to make it to the NCAA, but things happen for a reason.”

Coach Robin Pingeton said the outlook is different as the Tigers enter the WNIT for the second consecutive year. Last season was the Tigers’ first postseason berth since 2007. They lost to Eastern Illinois in the first round, 60-58.

“I think it’s just part of the nature of growing a program,” Pingeton said. “You know, it’d been so long since we had been to postseason last year. So to some extent, I feel like there was a sense of accomplishment by just getting to the postseason.”

In order to build a program, Pingeton said that mentality has to change.

“It’s not just about getting to the postseason,” Pingeton said. “You have to get to the postseason before you can get to the next step. That’s kind of like learning how to walk before learning how to run.”

If they are to build on their postseason experience, the Tigers will first have to take on a Creighton team that is similar to them.

Creighton made 7.9 three-pointers a game and averaged 65.6 points per game this season. Missouri led the SEC at 9.6 treys per game — more than four ahead of second-place Arkansas.

“It’s been a while since we’ve faced that,” Pingeton said. “I think it’s completely different than what we’ve played in the SEC, just completely different … It’s going to be very similar to guarding ourselves every day in practice.”

If Missouri wins, the team will stay on the road to play the winner of South Dakota State and Butler.

The Tigers will pack their bags to be on the road for two straight games. That isn’t a product of overconfidence; Pingeton said the WNIT suggests it.

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