COLUMBIA — In the weeks leading up to the season, Missouri women's basketball coach Robin Pingeton has made no bones about it: she needs more from Sydney Crafton.
On Tuesday night, she got it.
In Missouri's first exhibition game against Lincoln University, Crafton led the team with 28 points and 8 rebounds in a 75-50 Tigers victory at Mizzou Arena.
Although Crafton is the only player on Missouri's roster with more than one year of experience on the team, Pingeton stressed in her preseason news conference Oct. 24 that the senior guard still has strides to make.
"Sydney's certainly stepped up her game," Pingeton said last week. "I think we need more. There's no doubt about it. She's definitely taken some giant steps from a year ago and is trying to take some ownership. It's not like flipping on a light switch. It doesn't just happen overnight."
Crafton said the biggest difference on Tuesday was her willingness to take chances.
"Last year, I wouldn't even shoot it," she said. "Coach told me, 'If I don't shoot it, I'm going to sit on the bench.' We talked one time, and I made that a point. I said, 'I'm going to shoot the ball.'"
Her new approach was on full display Tuesday. She hit 12 of 13 shots from the field in her 26 minutes of playing time.
The stats from the exhibition game won't count, but Crafton's 28 points shattered her previous career high of 17, set in her sophomore year.
After the game, Pingeton stressed that Crafton's senior year journey is just beginning.
"I challenge Sydney Crafton every single day in practice," Pingeton said. "Focus, intensity, effort, toughness, because this kid's got greatness in her. And you guys have seen signs of it here and there, and now the challenge is to do it consistently."
Crafton was about the only consistent force for the Tigers on Tuesday. As Pingeton shuffled players in and out of the game, many of them playing their first game in a Missouri uniform, the team struggled mightily throughout the first half and didn't take full control of the game until well into the second half.
The new faces had moments of greatness. Pingeton praised freshman forward Darian Saunders for her defensive work with four rebounds and a block, and freshman guard Maddie Stock had 10 points, including two 3-point shots.
But Pingeton said she won't allow her team to use inexperience as an excuse.
She might not think Crafton can become a leader overnight, but she said she'll continue to push her lone four-year senior to lead the team on a more regular basis.
"I don't know if it's going to happen in her playing days here, but I think by year three or four after she graduates, she'll send me a note or an email and make a phone call and say thank you," Pingeton said.
"But when you're in it, it's hard. You feel you're getting picked on, and you're like, 'What can I do right?' But it's because I see greatness, and because I love her so much that I'm going to challenge her at the highest level."
Missouri is set to play another exhibition Nov. 6 against Lindenwood and then is scheduled to open the season with a Nov. 9 game against St. Louis University Both of the games will take place at Mizzou Arena.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.