Conference schedule challenges Missouri women's basketball

Wednesday, January 22, 2014 | 6:54 p.m. CST; updated 7:43 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Missouri forward Bri Kulas shoots a layup during the Tigers' 75-60 win over Western Illinois on Dec. 22, 2013, at Mizzou Arena. Kulas scored 17 points to go with her eight rebounds. Kulas's 19.3 points per game are tied for the conference lead, and her 47.5 field goal percentage ranks fifth among all SEC scorers.

COLUMBIA — The Missouri women's basketball team enjoyed a much-deserved break last weekend after facing three consecutive ranked opponents. 

Thursday's matchup against No. 17 Texas A&M will extend that streak to four and move Missouri halfway through a grueling eight-game stretch, in which the Tigers are scheduled to face seven Associated Press Top 25 teams. 

If you go

Who: Missouri Tigers (13-5) vs. No. 17 Texas A&M Aggies (15-4)

Where: Mizzou Arena

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Radio: 100.5 FM, 103.1 FM and 1580 AM

After more than two weeks of conference play, Missouri coach Robin Pingeton and her players are expecting a stern test against their upcoming Southeastern Conference opponents.

"They knew exactly what they were getting into," Pingeton said. "We know we are in the toughest league in the country."

The SEC has once again become one of the top conferences in the country, currently boasting six ranked teams. The conference's depth and a demanding road schedule create a unique challenge for Missouri (13-5, 2-3). 

"I don't know that there's another team in the country playing that stretch that we are," Pingeton said.

Like Missouri, Texas A&M is a former Big 12 team. After a 7-4 start to the season, the Aggies have won eight straight games and have flourished in conference play. Texas A&M (15-4 5-0) is the only SEC team with an undefeated conference record.

A&M's success in the conference has been driven by a formidable defense, which has held three of its last four opponents to less than 50 points, including Sunday's 73-35 trouncing of Mississippi State. 

The Aggies' defensive success on Thursday will largely depend on their ability to stop Missouri's Bri Kulas. In her second season at Missouri, the senior forward has emerged as one of the SEC's top players. Kulas' 19.3 points per game are tied for the conference lead, and her 47.5 field goal percentage ranks fifth among all SEC scorers.

Although LSU defeated Missouri 87-68 on Thursday, they were unable to contain Kulas, who posted a career-high 30 points. Missouri's motion offense worked effectively to penetrate LSU's combination of zone and man-to-man defenses.

"With our motion and the movement we have, if we take care of the ball, we are going to get shots," Pingeton said.

With Kulas leading the show, Pingeton is pleased with the team's efforts in conference play and has noticed an improved mentality throughout the team.

"When we go into these games, I feel like we are going into them with the mindset that we are going to win. That was not happening a year ago."

The fourth-year coach believes her young team has the talent to compete in the SEC, but also measures her team's success by more than just wins and losses.

"If we are just going to totally determine the success of this season on the scoreboard or the box score, I think it's unfortunate," Pingeton said. "There has been a lot of growth on this team."

Supervising editor is Sasu Siegelbaum.

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