Missouri women's basketball faces similar challenges in SEC

Friday, November 18, 2011 | 7:49 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Winning won't be any easier for the Missouri women's basketball team when it joins the Southeastern Conference next season.

The Big 12 is one of the best women's basketball conferences in the country, but Missouri coach Robin Pingeton thinks that the SEC, especially the SEC East division, might be even better.

Home Opener

Missouri vs. North Florida

WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Mizzou Arena

"It is a monster," Pingeton said. "Our hands are absolutely full."

The Tigers went 5-11 in the Big 12 last season, Pingeton's first at Missouri. Three Big 12 teams finished in the AP Top 25 last season, including NCAA Champion Texas A&M. Baylor and Oklahoma were the other ranked teams.

"We're still at ground level trying to build this program, and to think that you can go from bottom of the pack to the top of the conference in a year, you're sadly mistaken. It just doesn't happen that way," Pingeton said.

In the SEC, Missouri will no longer have to play Baylor and Oklahoma, but will still face the Aggies, who decided to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC before Missouri.

Four current SEC teams are ranked in the AP Top 25 this week, the same number as the Big 12.

"We're (going to be) in the trenches," Pingeton said. "It doesn't change overnight."

Missouri will be playing the likes of current No. 3 Tennessee, No. 12 Georgia and No. 17 Kentucky instead of Baylor and Oklahoma.

The toughest game on the schedule will often be Tennessee, coached by Pat Summitt, the women's basketball coach with the most wins. Summitt has won eight NCAA Championships in 36 years at Tennessee. 

"She certainly has legendary status. She's done so much for the game and has really paved the path for a lot of us," Pingeton said. "I've got a lot of respect for her, and admiration for what she's done for the sport."

How many times Missouri will play Tennessee each season has not been decided yet. Both schools will play football in the SEC East, but no word has come out yet about how the divisions will affect basketball scheduling, something Pingeton said she is anxious to find out.

Pingeton also said she has not had a chance to look into what travel and recruiting will be like in the SEC. Right now, she's focused on this season.

Pingeton's team is off to a good start, winning its first three games.

"It's a work in progress, but I really enjoy this team," she said. "They're a fun team to coach, they work hard, they're hungry, they want to get better, they want to do the right thing."

Missouri's home opener is against North Florida at 2 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena.

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