COLUMBIA — The Missouri women's basketball team will experience a rare phenomenon this week: a free Thursday evening.
In the Southeastern Conference, teams normally play every Sunday and Thursday, but this week, the Tigers have one of their two weeks off.
To coach Robin Pingeton, the timing couldn't be better.
"It's been a tough couple weeks, just the way the schedule kind of worked out for us," Pingeton said Sunday. "You respect every team that you play — anything can happen on any given night — but when you're looking at three top-20 teams out of the gates, it's pretty challenging for a young, inexperienced team."
Missouri is currently 12-6 overall and 1-3 in the SEC, including double-digit losses to No. 13 Georgia, No. 9 Tennessee and No. 6 Kentucky. The team defeated Auburn on Jan. 6 at home for its first victory in the conference.
Luckily for the Tigers, next week's opponents are slightly less imposing. Missouri will travel to Ole Miss (7-10, 0-4 SEC) on Jan. 20 to try to earn its first road victory.
The following Thursday, Missouri returns home to face Arkansas (13-4, 1-3).
Although the team's start in the SEC has been less than spectacular, Pingeton and her players seemed to embrace the early challenges after Sunday's loss to Kentucky.
"It's definitely tough, but I think it helped us a lot," senior guard Sydney Crafton said. "I think we're better from when we first played Georgia. Now we know what to expect."
Pingeton said she believes her young team will learn from game to game.
"You can watch as much tape as you want as a coach or as a player, but until you actually go through the fire and experience it, it’s hard to emulate," she said.
Winning a road game would be a positive step for the young team. Ole Miss, which has lost at home to Vanderbilt and Alabama, should be a good opportunity to get a victory.
Although Arkansas had previously been ranked in the top 25, it hasn't done much since SEC play started, with only one victory against Louisiana State.
Missouri will have a week purely to practice before its next game, and Pingeton said she thinks the team has the right attitude moving forward.
"I think we have a very good understanding of where we're at," Pingeton said. "I don't think our team would look past anybody, by any stretch of the imagination, in this league."