COLUMBIA — Although the Missouri women’s basketball team is just 3-7 in Big 12 Conference play and 11-13 overall, the team's season is far from a lost cause. Coach Robin Pingeton went as far as to say that Wednesday’s game versus Oklahoma State is the biggest game of the year.
Every team in the Big 12 has played at least 10 conference games this season. Just three wins separate fourth place from 11th. The conference parity means the Tigers still have a chance to finish in the middle or even top half of the standings once conference play ends March 5. But they have to start Wednesday by taking care of business in a winnable home game.
If the the Tigers want to make a move up the Big 12 standing, they must start on Wednesday when they host Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. at Mizzou Arena. The Cowgirls are 15-8 overall and 3-7 in conference but have won two straight games.
Pink Zone Game
The Pink Zone is a global, unified effort for the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's nation of coaches to assist in raising breast cancer awareness. Free T-shirts will be given to the first 500 fans on Wednesday and a $2 discount will be given to anyone wearing pink. All proceeds will benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Kay Yow Foundation.
“It’s a tough time of year. Teams either find their second wind and they make a strong push as they go into the end of the season, or they kind of run out of energy,” Pingeton said. “Oklahoma State is in the same boat we are, battling to find our way out of that three-way tie for eighth place.”
Last season, there was a clear division between the top seven teams in the conference and the bottom five. Four wins separated the seventh and eighth positions in the standings, resulting in the top seven teams making it to the NCAA tournament in 2010. Each of those teams received a seed of sixth or better in the tournament.
This season's parity might hurt the Big 12 come postseason selection time. According to Bracketology with Charlie Creme on ESPN.com, only five Big 12 teams are projected to make the NCAA tournament, with Texas sneaking in as a 12 seed. This could give the perception that the conference is weaker, but Missouri guard RaeShara Brown, who has played in the conference for nearly four years now, doesn't think it is.
“I think the conference is just more even,” Brown said. “It’s the first year where everybody’s been relatively balanced as far a matching up with each other. You never know on any given night who’s going to win and who’s going to lose. It’s a testament to how tough the Big 12 is.”
While teams like Oklahoma State and Nebraska are down this year, the traditional bottom feeders, such as Missouri, are at least a little bit better. The Tigers have three conference wins after managing only two a season ago.
With five of their final six conference games against teams with .500 records or worse in the conference, there is reason to think Missouri could finish at least in the middle of the Big 12 pack. That alone would be a huge step in Pingeton’s first season. The Tigers haven’t finished better than 10th in the conference since 2006.
The possibilities are still there, but the Tigers must start capitalizing in the form of wins. They could easily have two or three more conference wins had they been able to hold onto second-half leads. An inability to finish strong is something that’s haunted the Tigers in recent years. They know the formula for breaking the trend.
“We’re learning to stay focused not for 30 minutes or 39 minutes but the full 40 minutes,” senior Jasmyn Otote said. “Stay assignment correct and pay attention to details.”
That’s easier said than done. The Tigers are an inexperienced team with little depth, which is not a good formula for winning close games late. But they have shown an ability this season to finish strong, doing so in all three conference wins.
Additionally, Pingeton has seen her team make great strides since the start of the season, and she says she wishes the team could start the season over right now. The Tigers don’t have that luxury, but they do still have a chance to put those improvements to good use.