COLUMBIA — In less than two full seasons of Southeastern Conference play, the Missouri women's basketball team's secret is officially out: The Tigers shoot a lot of 3-pointers.
Whether those shots are followed by celebratory fist pumps and high fives or rolling eyes and upturned palms, the crowd's reaction usually signifies whether the Tigers are winning. But Missouri's opponents can count on one thing: The Tigers (16-11, 5-9) will run their motion offense, and they will take any open opportunity available from 3-point range for the full 40 minutes of play.
Missouri Tigers (16-11, 5-9) vs. Ole Miss (10-18, 1-11)
Where: Mizzou Arena
When: 7 p.m.
Radio: KTGR 100.5 FM, 103.1 FM, and 1580 AM
TV: Fox Sports Midwest
Missouri's 688 3-point attempts this season are at least 200 more than each of the other 13 SEC teams. The Tigers have made 9.4 treys per game — 3.3 more than second-most Arkansas. Their 37.1-percent mark ranks third in the conference.
Missouri coach Robin Pingeton repeatedly insisted that her offense ran "inside out" throughout the early phases of the season. However, the fourth-year coach has seen conference games won and lost from beyond the arc this year. She understands her offense hinges on her shooters' ability to knock down shots on a given night.
“On nights when we’re able to knock down those shots, it looks pretty good," Pingeton said of her 3-point heavy offense. "On nights where you don’t, it’s a struggle.”
Sunday's 56-50 loss to No. 10 Tennessee was certainly a struggle for Missouri's shooters. The Tigers played solid defense, minimized turnovers and found plenty of open looks, but their shots simply did not fall. Missouri connected on just 7-of-32 3-point attempts (21.9 percent) against the Volunteers.
"It's frustrating," 3-point specialist Morgan Eye said. "Looking at film with Coach, we saw maybe a small handful of shots that we would’ve wanted back. But all the other ones were like, ‘Man, I’d have her shoot that any day of the week.’”
The junior guard has been Missouri's most prolific outside shooter throughout the past two seasons. Eye leads the conference in 3-point shooting percentage (43.2) and 3-point field goals per game (3.5).
Although Tennessee caught the Tigers on a cold-shooting night, Volunteers senior guard Meighan Simmons acknowledged the challenge of defending Missouri's unconventional offense.
"It's definitely a good test for us," Simmons said after Sunday's game. "We'd never played anyone in the SEC that shoots as many 3s or shoots the percentages they shoot."
Sunday's loss places Missouri in 13th place in the SEC and at the bottom of a nine-team pack within two games of one another. The nine-team knot places even more pressure on a Missouri team with an already slim chance of joining the NCAA tournament bubble conversation.
If the Tigers can win their remaining regular seasanon games against Ole Miss and Arkansas, they have the potential to finish as high as seventh in the conference. A top-10 finish will grant Missouri a first-round bye in next week's SEC tournament.
"I do think it's important they see the entire picture and understand that there's still a carrot out there for us," Pingeton said.
Pingeton hopes finishing the regular season with two wins and adding a couple more in the conference tournament will be enough to clinch Missouri's first NCAA tournament bid since 2006. But Missouri is clearly on the outside looking in right now.
Thursday night's opponent, on the other hand, needs a conference tournament win to clinch any form of postseason play. Ole Miss (10-18, 1-11) rides an eight-game losing streak into Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers and Rebels have met once this season, opening SEC play Jan. 2. Missouri shot 62.5 percent from beyond the arc while taking an 85-76 victory home from Tad Smith Coliseum.
Thursday's game will be a special night for Missouri seniors Bri Kulas and Tania Jackson. The best friends of almost eight years will celebrate senior night together at Mizzou Arena. They met playing high school basketball in Kansas and have spent three years at Missouri combined, Jackson transferring from Kansas last year and Kulas from Johnson County Community College in 2012.
Kulas has been the Tigers' most consistent scorer through the past two seasons. She led the team in scoring in 2012-13, averaging 13.8 points. Kulas has stepped up as a leader and scorer this season. The captain ranks second in the conference with 18.6 points per game.
"Our kids are really drawn to Bri Kulas. She's been a great player for us, a great leader. So I think it'll be a pretty emotional night for us," Pingeton said.
Jackson has struggled with knee injuries throughout her basketball career. She has missed 10 consecutive games because of a left knee injury and is unlikely to return this season. However, she has become a vocal leader on the sideline. Although Jackson would prefer to be on the court for her final game at Mizzou Arena, she appreciates the opportunity to share this moment with Kulas.
"I've kind of always played ball with her in some type of way, my whole high school and college career," Jackson said. "It's surreal and cool that I'm going to end my college (basketball career) with her."
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.