The Maneater

Tournament success sets new Missouri program precedent

For the women’s basketball team, its season is not about the ending.

Freshman Sophie Cunningham cheers on coach Robin Pingeton's 100th victory recognition before the Vanderbilt game on Feb 28 2016. The women's basketball team just beat BYU in the first round of the women's March Madness bracket. Maneater File Photo

It’s no secret. Texas is huge.

That is one of the first and most important aspects the Missouri women’s basketball players and coaches hinted at before they took on the Longhorns on Monday.

With nearly half of the Texas roster at 5-foot-11 and up, including 6-foot-7 senior center Imani Boyette, the Tigers knew they had their work cut out for them on the boards. They didn’t need to watch film to predict that one.

During the first five minutes of the game, Mizzou kept Texas scoreless, which served as a false precedent for the game ahead. Once Missouri’s 6–0 streak concluded, so did its command. The Tigers trailed for the rest of the game, seeing spurts of hope, but they ultimately couldn't overcome the first half double-digit deficit.

“I felt like we got ourselves in a little bit of a hole in that first half and had a hard time recovering,” coach Robin Pingeton said. “(We) got to within 11 in that fourth quarter with about eight minutes to go and had a couple costly turnovers. We knew we were going to give up some offensive boards, but gave up more than what we anticipated, and then had to fight our way back from there.”

Although it wasn’t the only factor, height was indeed the most talked-about difference in the postgame press conference.

“I mean, again, their size, pretty lengthy,” junior Jordan Frericks said. “And I think their guards did a great job of going to the boards. It's definitely something that hurt us a little bit. But I mean, we still — I'm not sure. We just didn't have that right mentality to get them off the boards.”

Of course, Mizzou gave credit to Texas’ successful shooting and lockdown defense that forced 18 Missouri turnovers as well. On the other end of that, the Tigers struggled on offense. But hey, there’s room to grow.

Let’s step back and look at the bigger picture.

First, it is rare that a No. 10 seed is ever expected or highly favored to beat a No. 2 seed, so the loss was more of a letdown for fans.

Second and most importantly, this was Missouri in the NCAA tournament’s second round, a position the program hadn’t seen in 15 years. Simply getting to that stage was a major step for the team.

“Every year, it's going to be our goal to get here,” Frericks said after the Texas loss. “It was just an awesome opportunity to be able to get here and really showed our hard work that went into this season. We're looking forward to another year that's going to get us right back to where we are now.”

When senior Morgan Stock signed her contract with the program four years ago, she didn’t have any particular goals, but she had a direction in mind: forward.

“I didn't really have any expectation, but I wanted to build the program and we have,” Stock said before Selection Monday. “I think this year especially we checked some things off the list that haven’t been done for a long time and I think it's going in a really good direction.”

In those four years, not only did she rise to finish with the fifth-most 3-pointers in program history, but the team progressed with her.

This year alone the team checked off milestone after milestone: a 13–0 start, 100 wins for Pingeton, 1,000 points for Frericks, a record-setting 42-point performance for freshman Sophie Cunningham, a 20-win season and then this, the ultimate goal.

Not only did the team make the big dance for the first time in a decade, but it found success. It might’ve only been one game, but that single match had substantial gain in it.

A win's a win, but a victory in March has a little leverage to it. Given the highly competitive nature of the tournament, it speaks volumes when a team coming off losses in the first round of its conference tournament and on senior night turns around to win.

To say the least, Pingeton’s constant description of her “resilient” team came to life in March.

With a new program precedent set, the team will end the season looking forward. Because now, the players not only know how to make the tournament, but how to win in it.

“It was at that point in our building process that we talked a lot about this, and so they need to experience this opportunity in the NCAA and to understand what it takes to not only get here but to be successful here,” Pingeton said. “And I think we've got an incredible group coming back. We've got to put a little bit more muscle on with our interior kids, and we've got some nice additions coming in to join our team next year...Know they know. Let's see how they utilize that knowledge.”

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