COLUMBIA — With one second left in the regular season, the Missouri women's basketball team's seeding in the Southeastern Conference tournament was still up in the air.
So was Morgan Eye's deep 3-pointer.
No. 12 Missouri Tigers (17-12, 6-10 SEC) vs. No. 13 Mississippi State (18-12, 5-11 SEC)
When: 5 p.m.
Where: The Arena at Gwinnett Center (12,750 capacity) Duluth, Ga.
Radio: KTGR 100.5 FM and 101.3 FM
If this shot, like many of Eye's long-distance shots, found its way into the cylinder, the Tigers would win. They would jump up to a top-10 finish in the SEC and earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Eye's shot did not find its way. It clanked off the front of the rim, and Missouri (17-12, 6-10 SEC) lost its regular-season finale 72-70 to Arkansas (19-10, 6-10 SEC) on Sunday.
The Tigers finished in the conference's bottom four and now face a quick turnaround, as they will be one of four teams in action on Wednesday in the opening round of the SEC tournament.
The 12th-seeded Tigers will square off against the 13th-seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs (18-12, 5-11 SEC) at 5 p.m. in Duluth, Ga.
Mississippi State bested the Tigers 69-62 in their first meeting on Jan. 26 in Starkville, Miss. Freshman guard Dominique Dillingham provided a career-high 21 points for the Bulldogs, but their defense led the way.
Mississippi State accomplished a task few SEC teams have this season by containing Bri Kulas. The Bulldogs limited Kulas, the conference's second-leading scorer (18.6 points per game), to just 14 points in 28 minutes of action.
The Tigers will certainly count on a better performance from Kulas this time around. Missouri coach Robin Pingeton also realizes both teams progressed throughout February and understands tournament time provides a new type of competition.
"It's a fresh start for everyone," Pingeton said on an SEC women's basketball coaches teleconference Monday. "You really have to look at it like a one-game season, and if you want to dance, you have to find a way to come up with a win."
While recapping her team's regular-season performance, Pingeton said her young team was on par with her expectations for the 2013-14 campaign. She explained that her Tigers lacked the consistency necessary to compete for top spots in such a competitive conference but concluded that her team had made great strides since last year.
A five-game run to a conference title seems unlikely for Missouri, but the Tigers' ability to make a splash in the tournament hinges on one critical aspect of their offense: the 3-pointer.
"For us, it's all about our ability to knock down open shots," Pingeton said.
Pingeton's shot-happy motion offense has become Missouri's signature in its first two SEC seasons. The Tigers lead the conference in 3-point field goal attempts with 736 (210 more than second-place Ole Miss) and makes with 277 (105 more than second-place Arkansas.)
Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer acknowledged the difficulties of defending Missouri's distinctive offensive scheme on Monday's teleconference.
"Their IQ is extremely high," he said. "They read screens. They read how to come off screens, and it's just a really difficult thing to handle."
He joked that the best way to defend Missouri was to simply "not let them shoot it."
After taking three straight games to overtime and losing two of them, the Bulldogs showed signs of fatigue Sunday. Mississippi State struggled to get anything going against Georgia, and they dropped their regular season finale 77-48.
Schaefer admitted he had never seen a team play three straight overtime competitions in his 29-year coaching career but refused to make excuses for his team's performance.
Schaefer hopes his Bulldogs will bounce back strong from their 29-point loss.
"Let's go get hot and see where that takes us," he said. "How long can we play and play well?"
The winner of Wednesday's matchup will face Florida (18-11, 8-8 SEC) at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
Kulas and Doty earn SEC honors
Kulas was named to the All-SEC first team Tuesday morning. After earning second-team honors last season, Kulas raised her game to the next level this year. She ranks second in the conference in points per game (18.6), 10th in field goal percentage (44 percent) and second in free-throw percentage (83.4 percent).
"She's a special kid, and she knew what she was walking into two years ago in a program that have a great history" Pingeton said of her star senior. "She knew there were going to be some growing pains, but she really embraced the opportunity to jump on board and help us build this program."
Missouri's sophomore point guard Lianna Doty took home two off the court honors. Doty was one of 14 players named to the SEC community service team. She volunteers for local elementary schools, Special Olympics Missouri, the Boys & Girls Club, and many other local organizations and clubs.
Doty was also honored as the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Doty studies mechanical engineering at Missouri.
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.