COLUMBIA — As the final minutes of the game wound off the scoreboard, the voice of Missouri women’s basketball coach Robin Pingeton echoed through the gymnasium.
But when freshman point guard Lianna Doty stepped to the free-throw line with 1:14 left to play and Missouri down by two points, silence ensued. How the Tigers would conclude their game against Minnesota in their final game of the Cancun Challenge had yet to be decided.
Missouri (4-2) vs. Southeast Missouri (3-3)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
Doty’s first shot dropped through the net, triggering a burst of applause from teammates and the few spectators scattered across the stands. Missouri trailed 55-54.
As Doty planted her feet for the second time, players in both black and white jerseys leaned in with bent knees and extended arms. Their eyes followed the arch of her shot. When it clanked against the rim, they simultaneously lunged for the live ball.
Minnesota emerged with possession, ultimately earning a 59-54 win over Missouri. Doty desperately swatted at the opposition and drew fouls, attempting to stop the relentless countdown to the Tigers’ second consecutive loss of the season.
Although Missouri lost two of its three games at the tournament, Pingeton said she felt encouraged by how her team performed against the toughest competition the Tigers have faced this season.
“For us to be in the situation we were in was a really positive thing,” Pingeton said.
Missouri began the tournament with a 49-44 win over Wichita State, followed by a 55-33 loss to Green Bay — a team that has advanced to four straight NCAA tournaments. Despite the final score, Missouri was down by four at halftime and within two points of tying just before Green Bay's 20-0 run.
“Young team playing against a lot of awfully good competition,” Pingeton said. “I think we found out a lot about ourselves in regards to our depth and some different rotations, but also some areas we absolutely need to get better in.”
Pingeton attributed Missouri's collapses late in the games to inexperience, particularly at the point guard position.
“You only have so many timeouts, and you really need your point guards to be an extension of you on the court,” Pingeton said.
Pingeton talked with guards Doty and sophomore Kyley Simmons after the tournament about their execution late in the games, emphasizing the importance of knowing when to gamble and when to stall.
“I made a lot of mistakes at that point, so I learned a lot about end-of-game management — just knowing when I need to push and value every possession,” Doty said.
Doty played 96 minutes and totaled 30 points in the three-game tournament. She leads the team in steals with 15 for the season.
“She can make a lot of things happen for us on both ends of the court,” Pingeton said. “But there are going to be some bumps in the road with a freshman point guard. There is no doubt about it.”
The Cancun Challenge was the team’s first time playing together on the road.
“I saw a lot of resiliency,” Pingeton said. “We had some players step up who maybe hadn’t had a chance to step up previously that really did some nice things for us.”
She was speaking of forward Michelle Hudyn and center Liz Smith. Hudyn played 45 minutes with seven points and five rebounds. Smith played 64 minutes with 11 points and 17 rebounds.
Smith and Hudyn said the increased playing time gave them greater confidence in their ability to contribute to the team's success.
“I think it’s all going to be mental for the rest of the year,” Smith said. “The opportunity is there. We just have to seize it.”
With an upcoming schedule littered with tough opponents in the Southeastern Conference, Missouri is preparing for close games where the outcome will depend on the team’s performance in the final minutes.
“It was really good for us to get into those situations against top teams that have veteran players who know how to handle those situations,” Doty said. “Next time we’re in that situation, we’ll know exactly how to handle it.”