Missouri women's basketball team eager for early season test

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 | 5:55 p.m. CST; updated 6:59 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 21, 2012

COLUMBIA — For Lindsey Cunningham, it's the physical challenge of playing on back-to-back to days. 

For Kyley Simmons, it's the chance to face off against Green Bay, a team she turned down to attend Missouri.

For coach Robin Pingeton, it's a measuring stick to see how her team stacks up with tougher competition.

For Arizona native Darian Saunders, it's an escape from the November cold in the Midwest. 

Each member of the Missouri women's basketball team has her own reasons for looking forward to the team's first road trip, but the players understand that the Cancun Challenge tournament could be an early defining moment in the young team's season.

"I think we'll know a lot more about our team in about a week and a half than we do right now," Pingeton said in a Nov. 14 press conference. "We're going to get challenged at the highest level."

Although Missouri played a close game against Western Illinois,  the team's two exhibitions and first two regular season games were easy wins. 

In Cancun, the Tigers will begin with a game at 2:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving against a Wichita State team that finished with a 21-12 record last year.

On Friday, they will face the Green Bay Phoenix, who were a No. 7 seed in the 2012 NCAA tournament. 

The tournament will wrap up Saturday with a game against Minnesota, Missouri's first opponent from a major conference. The Gophers have started the season 4-0, including wins over Villanova and Ohio. 

"Those are three games that every single possession's going to be very valuable," Pingeton said.

In addition to the higher level of competition, the team will have to play on three consecutive days, something Simmons said they've been preparing for in practice.

Pingeton said she thinks that this is a week where the team's top players will separate themselves from the pack and the team's rotations will become more clear.

She also said the trip will be equally as important for the team's development off the court. 

"Traveling with the team, I definitely think there are some advantages of that," Pingeton said. "It gets so hard when you're here. You just don't get that quality time together, unless it's over Christmas break, where you just minimize outside distractions, and you eat all your meals together, and you've got film sessions and team meetings." 

Simmons, a sophomore, is looking forward to spending more time with the seven new members of the squad.

"Those long plane rides, there's nothing else to do but talk," Simmons said. "It's going to help out a lot just knowing each other's backgrounds and where we came from, and just finding out different cool things about each other that we don't really have time to do here."

And if the Tigers' off-court bonding activities translate into success on the court, their long plane ride home will certainly be happier. 

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