Missouri women's basketball coach sees growth in her team after Florida win

Thursday, January 31, 2013 | 11:11 p.m. CST; updated 11:35 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 31, 2013
Missouri women's basketball coach Robin Pingeton talks with Missouri center Liz Smith during the game against Florida on Thursday evening. The Tigers beat Florida 69-64.

COLUMBIA — The smack of her heel striking the hardwood pierced Mizzou Arena. With bent knees, Missouri women’s basketball coach Robin Pingeton stood with palms up and a creased brow.

Triggering her frown was the sight of Missouri giving up 14 unanswered points in the first half of Thursday's game against Florida.

With four minutes left in the first half, the Tigers led 32-20.

With 2 minutes left, Sydney Crafton lobbed a shot from under her own the basket. It arched over the rim and into a Florida players' hands. The Gators drove back for a 3-pointer to make the score 32-28.

Pingeton sunk into her chair, burying her face in the palm of her hand. At halftime, Missouri trailed 34-32.

"We talked about how our backs were against the wall and how we were going to respond," Pingeton said.

Pingeton followed her team into the locker room with a restrained face, tight lips and stern eyes. At halftime, Lianna Doty led the team in points with seven, and Morgan Eye and Liz Smith followed with three apiece.

With nine minutes left and the Tigers trailing by two, Smith shot from inside the paint.

Pingeton arched her back as the ball progressed towards the basket. When it hit the rim and rolled to the side, she sprang back to an upright position.

"I knew whatever happened, we were going to go out fighting," Smith said.

Liene Priede emerged from the cluster of blue jerseys and flailing arms. Unable to gain full possession of the ball, she swatted it into Doty's hands. Doty set her feet and shot from behind the 3-point arc to make the score 51-49 and earn the Tigers their first lead of the second half.

"We just get in there, get our hand on the ball, pop it up and get it," Doty said of the team's rebound strategy.

In a burst of excitement about pulling ahead, Pingeton fell to a knee, a scream escaping her lips. She then swiftly rose to her feet, straightened her suit and tucked her hair behind her ears.

"That’s the biggest thing — we've just got to stay the course," Pingeton said. "These are tough times, and nobody has higher expectations for us than we do."

With 1:38 left to play, the score was tied at 64.

Pingeton called a timeout, casually grabbed her clipboard and calmly instructed her team.

When Crafton scored on a layup to pull the Tigers ahead 66-64, Pingeton thrust her arms into the air, still clutching her clipboard.

"She's starting to take more ownership," Pingeton said of Crafton. "Late in the game, she wanted the ball in her hands."

Missouri held onto the lead and won 69-64. Smith led the team in points with 15, Crafton followed with 13, Eye had 12 and Doty had 11.

"I think you see a lot of growth in this team," said a much calmer Pingeton in the post-game press conference. "I hope they enjoy this win tonight — they deserve it."

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