COLUMBIA — The Missouri women's basketball team ended its season with a loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Conference Tournament quarterfinals Thursday in Kansas City. The 70-59 defeat cemented a 13-18 overall record, including only three wins against Big 12 Conference opponents.
But Tigers coach Robin Pingeton has routinely emphasized that, regardless of whether her team lost by 44 points to No. 1 Baylor or won in a five-point overtime game against Kansas State, the numbers alone can't determine her team's success this year.
Pingeton finished her second year as Missouri's coach and was granted a one-year contract extension March 2 that will keep her in Columbia through 2017. She and her staff are in the midst of rebuilding a Missouri program that hasn't had a winning season since 2006-07.
Missouri will lose three seniors. Two of them, Christine Flores and BreAnna Brock, were regular starters at the post position. The two forwards led the Tigers in scoring all season, with Flores scoring 16.9 points per game and Brock averaging 13.7.
Pingeton will most likely rely on recruiting to land a couple of players to fill the roles Brock and Flores vacated.
"I think there's a lot of question marks and some questions that need to be answered individually," Pingeton said. "(But) we're going to continue to make giant strides with this program."
Missouri's season featured some bright spots that leave encouraging signs about the program's future.
"I'm really excited about our returning kids," Pingeton said following Thursday's loss. "I'm excited about our kids coming in. I don't know who it's going to be or how we're going to replace certain players, but we'll find a way."
Here's a look at some of the players who played pivotal roles on this year's team that will return to the lineup next season:
The freshman point guard seemed to mature more and more as the season progressed and looked like a seasoned veteran by the conference tournament. Simmons averaged 36 minutes per game and was responsible for more than a quarter of Missouri's assists with 111.
But Pingeton said Simmons will bring more to the Missouri offense than assist totals.
"Kyley Simmons will be our leader next year," Pingeton said. "We're really going to lean heavily on her for vocal leadership. She's quick to take responsibility, very slow to point fingers, if at all. That's what great leaders do. We knew we were getting someone pretty special."
Eye is another freshman who played a major role in Missouri's offense this past season. She finished third on the team averaging 8.1 points per game, but her ability to shoot the 3-pointer will pay dividends for a team that may lack a dominant post presence next season. She made 63 3-point shots her freshman year in 177 attempts.
Pingeton said Eye will have to step into more of a leadership role next season with Flores and Brock leaving.
"I think this year is a hard year for our youngsters to really step up in that leadership role, although I think they did an outstanding job," Pingeton said. "You're coming in as a freshman and you've got seniors that are starters for you, you just tread lightly maybe at times."
As the most experienced player on the Missouri roster, the responsibility falls to Crafton to provide veteran leadership next year. But she has been inconsistent her entire career, and Pingeton said Crafton will have to focus on her individual work ethic before she can begin to establish a leadership role.
"Consistency is the question mark," Pingeton said. "How much are you going to invest into it? Emotionally, mentally, physically — she's got a lot of potential, but there's a lot of people out there that have got a lot of potential."