Missouri women's basketball hopes to surprise in conference play

Tuesday, January 3, 2012 | 6:57 p.m. CST; updated 12:58 a.m. CST, Wednesday, January 4, 2012

COLUMBIA — The Missouri women's basketball team is off to its best start since 2006-2007 when the Tigers went 12-1 to open the season.

This season's Tigers are 10-1 after finishing nonconference play with a 66-48 victory against Sam Houston State last Friday night at Mizzou Arena. While that is certainly an accomplishment for a Missouri team that regularly plays numerous freshmen and transfers — including freshman point guard Kyley Simmons, freshman sharpshooter Morgan Eye and and junior college transfer Liene Priede — the Tigers are about to find out just how good they really are with a visit Wednesday to Waco, Texas, to play No. 1-ranked Baylor  in their first road game since Nov. 16.

For all her intensity and competitiveness, which can be seen on any given day at a practice or on the sidelines during a game, Missouri coach Robin Pingeton holds no delusions about where her young team stacks up against some of the perennially dominant teams in the Big 12 Conference.

"Do we have a chance to win the conference?" Pingeton said after Friday's victory. "That's a stretch, a lot of things would have to happen for that. You never want to say it's never going to happen, but let's be realists, right?"

But Pingeton and her players aren't simply going to succumb to defeat without a fight. Pingeton said she wants her team to be as scrappy as possible.

"We're going to be challenged to the nth degree," Pingeton said. "But our motto is we're going to roll up our sleeves and we're going to go to work and we're going to scrape, claw, fight, play as hard as we can play and at the end of the game, whatever happens, happens."

That mentality has to begin and end with Missouri's more experienced players, especially seniors Christine Flores and BreAnna Brock, who together are anchoring the Tigers' offense from the post.

"It's their first Big 12 game, it's against the best team in the nation," Flores said of Missouri's freshman and transfers. "We got to prepare each other for it, and the people who haven't seen Big 12 play yet, we have to prepare them for that, and tell them what they're going to see, what it's all about."

How well Missouri does against Baylor and other teams in the Big 12 is contingent on how consistent the Tigers can play, how quickly some players can mature and how well Pingeton and her staff can prepare the team on a day-to-day basis.

The Tigers have had difficulties at times putting together a full 40 minutes of good play, a trend Missouri must deal with if it hopes to have success against Big 12 teams.

"There's not another game on our schedule where we can show up and play for 20 minutes and expect to come out ahead," Pingeton said.

The emergence of Simmons at point guard has been welcome, but there are questions about how well she will play against conference foes because of her youth. Pingeton attempted to put those to rest Friday.

"She's got a little bit of a chip on her shoulder when it comes to the Big 12," Pingeton said. "I think she's gong to embrace the opportunity that's in front of her. She'll play with a lot of toughness. Will there be some bumps in the road? You betcha. But I wouldn't bet against her, she'll find a way to hold her own and make us all really proud."

Pingeton echoed similar sentiments about her entire team. While she admitted just how tough winning in the Big 12 can be, she said some squads might have a tendency to overlook the Tigers.

"I also think that we've got the personnel and some players that can do some things this year," she said. "I do think we've got the ability to surprise some people this year. One thing I can promise going forward is that these girls will play hard, and they will fight, and they will compete, and they will stay united as a team, and when you do that, you never know what could happen."

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