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Missouri women's basketball team struggles to explain recent slump

Thursday, February 21, 2013 | 7:56 p.m. CST
Missouri guard Sydney Crafton dribbles past Mississippi State guard Katia May during the women's basketball game Sunday at Mizzou Arena. The Mississippi State defeated Missouri 61-56.

The Missouri women's basketball team is set to play LSU at 1 p.m. Friday at Mizzou Arena after the game was postponed from a 8 p.m. Thursday tip-off because of Thursday's snowstorm. The program will offer free admission and parking Friday, however, the game will no longer be televised.

COLUMBIA — Robin Pingeton has watched the film. 

She's counted the mistakes: 20 minutes, 17 open shots missed, six of them layups. Another three were shot from 15 feet or closer. 

And at the end of the half, there was a total of 11 points on the scoreboard — the lowest-scoring half the Missouri women's basketball program has had. 

The first half in Missouri's 61-40 loss at Arkansas on Sunday was a new low point in a three-game losing streak that the team has been on since Feb. 3 when it defeated Tennessee, then ranked No. 9 in the country.

It's a slump that Missouri's coach is having difficulty explaining. 

"Practices have been outstanding, some of the best practices we've had all season," Pingeton said. "And I think that's the frustrating part, is we're having a hard time carrying that over into actual game situations."

After the Tennessee game, Pingeton had promised there would not be a letdown. There was. On Feb. 10, the Tigers fell 61-56 to visiting Mississippi State, which entered the contest with a 2-7 Southeastern Conference record.

The  Tigers remained flat in a 62-46 loss Feb. 14 at Vanderbilt.

"It was one of those games that we could not knock down shots," Pingeton said. "You're going to have those kind of off nights. You've still got to try to find a way to win."

Then came the trip to Arkansas. With the slow start, the Tigers missed an opportunity to get revenge on a team that had defeated them at Mizzou Arena earlier in the season. 

Now, the team is left to try to regroup for its home game against Louisiana State on Thursday. 

Pingeton said she thinks the problem is different for different players. Some are pushing too hard. Some aren't focused enough. Some aren't playing with the necessary toughness.

She said the players might be pushing too hard, knowing that with their next win, the Tigers will guarantee themselves a .500 record and make themselves eligible for postseason play.

And she said the team's struggles are partly because of its youth. 

"You cannot replace experience," she said. "We're still trying to understand what it takes to play at this level, the mentality you have to have."

Senior guard Sydney Crafton, who has more experience playing at the Division I level than any of her teammates,  had one message for the younger players: "Stay the course."

She sees her teammates in the gym every day, putting up shots outside of practice. And she makes sure to point out the positives that have come out of the rough stretch.

"Our defense at Vandy, that was really good, but our shots just didn't fall," Crafton said. "That's going to happen if you're a shooting team. It's very rare that you're always going to hit."

Drawing on her past three years at Missouri, Crafton said the team needs to avoid getting discouraged.

"I've seen so many teams from the bottom come to the top," she said. "You never know what's going to happen on any given night." 

Freshman guard Lianna Doty doesn't have as much perspective from past years to draw from.

"High school was really laid-back, compared to this," Doty said. "I don't have anything to compare it to. Everything's new to me."

She echoed her coach's assertion that recent practices have been great, and can't put her finger on what the problem is.

In contemplating how to end the slump, she goes back to the Tigers' win against Florida on Jan. 31.

"It goes back to that Florida game," she said. "It didn't matter what the refs were calling or what anyone else was doing. We control what we can control, and we were all 100 percent in. That's what we really need to get back to."

Falling between Crafton and Doty is sophomore Morgan Eye. The team's go-to 3-point shooter has struggled through the slump, shooting 6-for-29 from long range during the past three games.

"When you don't get some shots to fall, it's hard to keep telling yourself, 'I'll get the next one,'" Eye said. "You've got to continue to challenge yourself to think the right thoughts and shoot the ball like you know it's going down." 

She said the team might be pushing too hard for win No. 16, knowing a playoff berth is on the line. 

"We're here all year long, in the summer, working hard," she said. "You think about all the days of practice you put in, so you've got to remember that you have another opportunity in front of you come Thursday."


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