Win against Tennessee improves outlook for Missouri women's basketball

Monday, February 4, 2013 | 9:32 p.m. CST; updated 6:15 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 5, 2013
The Missouri women's basketball team celebrates after knocking off No. 9 Tennessee 80-63 on Sunday at Mizzou Arena. It was the Tigers' first win against a Top 10 team in more than three years.

COLUMBIA — When the question was posed by a reporter in the back of the room, Taber Spani and Ariel Massengale of Tennessee women's basketball team hesitated and looked at each other.

"Does this change how teams in the SEC see Missouri women's basketball?"

The Tennessee players were sitting at the front of the Mizzou Arena media room, fielding questions after Missouri handed the Volunteers their first Southeastern Conference loss of the season in an 80-63 upset.

After a moment's pause, it was Spani who leaned into the microphone to offer a response.

"I mean, it's a great win for them, obviously," she said. "They're coming in and adjusting. They're a different type of team than pretty much every other SEC team. No one shoots the ball like them that I've played against for four years."

It was Missouri's fast-paced offense that wore down the visiting Volunteers on Sunday.

After suffering an embarrassing 45-point loss in Knoxville on Jan. 10, sophomore guard Morgan Eye sank six 3-pointers in a 26-point effort to help Missouri score a decisive victory in the rematch. 

Missouri coach Robin Pingeton called Sunday's upset a "statement win" for a program that accumulated a 15-67 record in conference games during its final five seasons in the Big 12. 

It was Missouri's first victory over a top-10 team since Pingeton took over the program in 2010. 

Knowing that her roster didn't have the size to match up with other Southeastern Conference teams, Pingeton retained her offensive system, which focuses on quick offensive possessions and long-range shots, rather than try to adapt to the defense-first mindset in the new conference.

"I'll be honest with you," Pingeton said. "I never thought about wavering because I don't know any other system. This is what we do, and this is what we've done as a staff for a long time."

After the win, Pingeton cited the growth she had seen in the team since it lost three of its first four SEC games.

"Everybody wants a quick fix, but when I took this job, I remember (Missouri Athletics Director) Mike Alden and I talking about the process," she said. "He wanted a program that was built on a very strong foundation and understood the time it was going to take."

In her third year as Missouri coach, Pingeton is steadily working toward the goals she stated at the beginning of the season.

She had said she wanted to bring the Tigers into the middle of the pack in the SEC. Missouri is currently in eighth place in the 14-team conference with its 4-5 record in conference play.

She had also said she wanted to bring the team back to the postseason for the first time since 2007, when it played in the Women's National Invitation Tournament. 

The Tigers are 15-8 overall and now have a signature win against Tennessee on their resume, which puts them in good shape for a WNIT bid with an outside shot at reaching the NCAA tournament.

Missouri will have this week off before its next game Sunday, when it hosts Mississippi State, which has a 2-7 conference record. 

After traveling to Vanderbilt and Arkansas, three of Missouri's final four opponents are under .500 in conference play.

With seven games remaining, Missouri will have plenty of chances to see if its style continues to baffle SEC defenses. 

"We didn't take over a program that was in the middle of the pack," Pingeton said. "We took over a program that was really struggling. ... We still have a lot of work to do, there's no doubt about it."

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