Missouri women's basketball staff deals with tough stretch

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 | 10:21 p.m. CST
Head coach for the MU Women's Basketball team, Robin Pingeton, reacts to a play during the team's game against Baylor on Feb. 1 at Mizzou Arena.

COLUMBIA — In her second year as coach of the Missouri women's basketball team, Robin Pingeton isn't seeing the success she wants. At least not yet.

After an impressive 10-1 start to the season, Missouri has lost all 10 of its Big 12 Conference games so far this season. It's not the improvement Pingeton and her staff wanted coming into their second season with the Tigers, but they understand the process of building a program from the ground up.

"Losing is no fun even when you know the big picture. But we've been through this before," assistant Randy Norton said. "We know exactly what needs to be done. We can all look at each other and have that confidence because we've been there before."

Pingeton and her staff have been together since 2003 when Norton, Willie Cox and Jenny Putnam joined Pingeton in her first year at Illinois State, which, at the time, was also in desperate need of rebuilding.

Pingeton had surprising success with the Redbirds in 2003, posting a 16-13 record and earning the Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year award. But the success didn't carry over into the next two years, when Illinois State won a combined 25 games.

But during the 2007-08 season, the Redbirds went 26-7 and were MVC champions with a berth in the NCAA tournament.

Now at Missouri, Pingeton stressed that the first three years are the toughest when rebuilding a program.

"That first year, there's a freshness, kids are excited about the change," Pingeton said. "But years two and three are tough; you're laying your expectations, your standards, the discipline within your program, the style of play. You're embracing the players already here and trying to build relationships and assess their strengths and weakness and helping them grow and at the same time working hard on the recruiting trail."

Much of the challenge involves adapting the coaching staff's game style to the talent already on the team. The players Pingeton has now don't necessarily fit the mold she wants to cast.

"It doesn't mean they're bad," Pingeton said. "As you turn a program, probably the most important thing you can do is embrace your players, build a relationship with them, spend some time with them. At the same time, you got to continue to recruit players that fit your style and system."

For Pingeton and her staff, recruiting major talent is the next step toward making Missouri a winning program, a feat she knows is tough but not impossible to accomplish.

"It's an awfully tall task to get a female that wants to come in here and put the weight of the world on her shoulders and be that franchise player," Pingeton said. "It's a great opportunity, but it's a big responsibility."

Some of Pingeton and her staff's recruits are on the team already, but most are freshmen who were thrown onto the court against some of best college players and teams. While that youth and inexperience is hurting the Tigers this season, it will only improve their skills in the future.

"When our freshmen get to be juniors, it's going to make a big difference," Pingeton said. "But when you're thrown on this stage under these lights at this level, it's awfully tough. For a team like us, in the best conference in the country, it's going to take some time, and it's going to get tougher before it gets easier."

While Missouri still hasn't won a conference game this season, Pingeton still thinks the Tigers are on the right path to a successful future within the next couple of seasons.

"This is hard work to build, but this is what makes it so worthwhile," she said. "But it's hard. It's hard on our staff, it's hard on our players, it's hard on our fans, and I get that. But it's also what makes it so rewarding."

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