Missouri women's basketball team hopes to seize 'great opportunity' ahead

Saturday, February 15, 2014 | 10:11 p.m. CST
In this photo from January, Missouri Women's Basketball plays against Vanderbilt in Mizzou Arena.

The Missouri women's basketball team will face a similar foe Sunday when it takes on Auburn. 

The schools share a conference and a mascot. Both teams boast a 14-10 record, and, with five games remaining, each team finds itself in dire need of positive results for their postseason hopes. 

Unfortunately for Missouri, the similarities end there.

Auburn has won three straight contests and will come into the 2 p.m. matchup with momentum after earning a resume-boosting win at Vanderbilt on Thursday. The 68-62 victory marked Auburn's first win over the Commodores in 14 years and pushed the surging Tigers to the middle of the Southeastern Conference standings.

The Tigers from Missouri will travel to Auburn as losers of three in a row and seven of their last eight. The recent woes have dropped the Tigers to 11th in the 12-team conference.

However, after a heart-wrenching home loss to Alabama last Sunday, Missouri took time to regroup during its week-long break while preparing for this decisive homestretch. 

"We took a step back and said 'OK, let's look at the big picture,'" Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. "The message was, with five games left, we still have a great opportunity."

If Missouri hopes to take advantage of Sunday's opportunity, the Tigers must make ball-security a top priority. Missouri has turned the ball over 54 times in their last three games, and their miscues have proven costly in the form of transition points. 

"It seems that a lot of our turnovers lead to transition baskets, and when other team turn the ball over, we're not getting those uncontested looks," Pingeton said. 

Auburn's high pressure defense will certainly test Missouri. Throughout the season, Auburn has played a variety of trap zone defenses and full-court press sets. Their 10.4 steals per game ranks third in the SEC. 

In addition to limiting turnovers, Missouri must kick-start its struggling offense. Like last year's squad, the Tigers have lived and died by the long ball. Missouri leads the SEC with 9.3 3-pointers per game, but a recent bout of cold shooting has temporary stalled the Tigers. Missouri connected on just five of its 31 3-point field goal attempts (16 percent) against Alabama. Pingeton did not express concern about her shooters' recent struggles, but did admit the Tigers may try some new rotations at Auburn. 

"I feel like we do need a shake-up," Pingeton said. "I do anticipate there will be some sort of change in that lineup."

The fourth-year coach understands the challenges of building a program while competing in one of the couture's most competitive conferences. Throughout the recent struggles, she has continuously preached a positive message to her young team.

"We're going through some growing pains right now. We've got an awfully young team," Pingeton said. "We're making strides it's not always showing up on the box score or the scoreboard, but we're definitely making strides. We're so much further ahead than we were a year ago."

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