COLUMBIA — For the Missouri women’s basketball team, small victories are really the only thing they're competing for at this point.
After the Tigers saw their losing streak grow to a frustrating 11 games Wednesday night with a 65-52 loss to Iowa State at Mizzou Arena, they were again forced to look for positives in places other than the scoreboard.
"Just the other day Coach (Robin Pingeton) noticed we were kind of down on ourselves because we haven't had a conference win," freshman guard Morgan Eye said, who had a season high nine rebounds against the Cyclones. "But the scoreboard doesn't really matter as long as we go out there and play with heart."
Since the beginning of the season, Pingeton has preached that same message, that the Tigers are not at a point where they can be measured by final scores or the win-loss column.
So what they should be measured by?
Maybe it's that in Wednesday night's game, two Missouri freshmen, Kyley Simmons (14 points) and Eye (10 points), were the first and third leading scorers for Missouri.
Maybe it's that with five minutes left in the game and down by 14, the Tigers were still hustling all over the court, diving for loose balls, fighting for rebounds and committing hard fouls, not allowing easy baskets.
Or maybe it's that after trailing by 17 points at halftime, the Tigers came out and won the second half by four points.
All of those elements of Wednesday night’s game seem to signal a return to relevance sometime in the future. But when is that time exactly?
Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly thinks it will be soon.
"I know it's hard to lose, and it's hard to look forward to ... but your (Missouri's) time is coming," Fennelly said after the game. "Women's basketball, in a short amount of time, will rival what the men are doing, and it's going to be fun."
If that time is coming soon, it's likely to come as a result of the play of the Tigers' freshmen who are playing right now. Pingeton mentioned that some of the freshmen that haven't been on the court as much this season will begin to get some minutes. She was also excited about the play of Simmons and Eye.
"I'm really proud of both of them," Pingeton said. "They play with a lot of poise and a lot of toughness. I'm excited for their sophomore, junior and senior seasons. I think they're just going to continue to grow and get better. It's all a part of where we're at right now."
Where they're at right now is winless in conference. It is something that they acknowledge but refuse to dwell on.
"It's tough times right now, but we just have to stay the course," Pingeton said. "We're not quitters. We're laying a foundation. We're building a program."
Iowa State buried the Tigers under a mountain of 3-pointers on Wednesday night in front of a crowd of 1,208 at Mizzou Arena. The Cyclones scored 27 points from beyond the arc, shooting 42.9 percent. They were led by senior guard Lauren Mansfield, who had five of the team's nine 3-pointers.
Iowa State extended its winning streak to three games and have won five of its past six games.
Missouri plays next against Oklahoma on Saturday in Norman, Okla. The last time the teams met, Oklahoma narrowly defeated the Tigers 62-59.