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Columbia Missourian

Missouri women's basketball freshmen making mark in recent games

By Matt Beezley
February 20, 2012 | 10:02 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The freshmen are growing up.

It is a much needed boost for the Missouri women's basketball team as it heads into the remainder of its season.

Tuesday's game

Missouri (11-14, 1-13)
at Iowa State (16-9, 7-7)

WHEN: 7 p.m.
Hilton Coliseum, Ames, Iowa
KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM

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Morgan Eye was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Week on Monday after she averaged 14 points and 4.5 rebounds in two games last week in a loss to Texas A&M and a victory against Kansas. Point guard Kyley Simmons, who averages just 4.5 points per game, also recently found her shooting touch, scoring 13 points against Kansas and 14 points in a loss to Iowa State on Feb. 8.

Both players have been important to the Missouri offense, especially in Missouri's first conference win against Kansas on Saturday. They combined for nine assists and 22 points in the win, including Simmons' key 3-point shot that gave Missouri a seven-point lead to hold off a late Kansas surge.

Eye has emerged as the linchpin in Missouri's unsuccessful upset bid against Texas A&M last Tuesday. She tied a career-high with 19 points.

Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said she continues to see Eye improve in every aspect of her game but noted that she hasn't come close to maximizing her potential.

"A lot of it needs to happen in the off-season," Pingeton said. "A lot of it is going to take place in the weight room and working on her core strength. Her foot speed, her quickness, they're all areas I think she can continue to improve."

Simmons continues to mature as the primary point guard option for the Missouri offense. She has started every Big 12 game and recorded 39 minutes in each game against Kansas and Iowa State.

"It doesn't faze me," Simmons said after the loss to Iowa State. "I have to push and give my team everything for the whole 40 minutes."

Pingeton said it could be hard to stay positive when the team started conference play with 13 straight losses, but she has been impressed with the resilience she has seen from her players, especially Eye and Simmons. She said both players knew that rebuilding a program would be a challenge that couldn't be overcome in one season.

"I don't think our young kids have been down at all," Pingeton said. "Probably just the opposite. I think all of what took place in the recruiting process and talking to them about where our program was at and where our vision is in the future, they knew where we were at in the program."

Eye and Simmons have struggled at times this season: Eye has had shooting slumps and Simmons leads Missouri with 76 turnovers. But that has been part of the process of maturing as players and could almost be expected from two newcomers playing in one of the toughest conferences in women's basketball. Nevertheless, Pingeton said they've continued to stay focused.

"They expect success," she said. "I never really felt like they had their heads down at all. They're perfectionists, they expect big things from themselves. When they have breakdowns and in watching film, they're frustrated but haven't really wavered from a confidence standpoint."

Now that Missouri recorded its first conference win, it looks to maintain that momentum against Iowa State on Tuesday. Missouri lost the previous game 65-52 to the Cyclones on Feb. 8 at Mizzou Arena.

In that game, Missouri had a poor first half, scoring only 22 points in the opening 20 minutes. If Missouri can have a stronger showing in first 10 to 15 minutes and get continued consistency from its freshmen, the Tigers have a chance to get their second win of the conference season.