COLUMBIA — They may not talk about it, lest they neglect to focus on the task at hand.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
But when the Missouris womens basketball team faces Vanderbilt at 5 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament in Atlanta, its postseason ticket may be all but punched, an opportunity that would undoubtedly help coach Robin Pingeton in her quest to rebuild the program.
I think weve got an awfully good shot where were at to make the WNIT, Pingeton said Wednesday.
To make the 64-team Womens NIT, a program must have a winning record or be the best team from a conference to not make the NCAA tournament. The Tigers enter todays game as the 10th seed in the SEC tournament, but could quality for the WNIT because of their 17-13 overall record (which includes a 6-10 mark in the SEC).
Considering where the program was when Pingeton took over in April 2010 coming off a 12-18 season and following several years of mediocrity simply reaching the postseason would be an accomplishment, one the Tigers havent experienced since the 2006-2007 season.
When youre building a program, its that first team that finally gets to postseason thats so important. Because the expectations have been set, they understand what its about and you can say OK this is the bar, we are a postseason team, Pingeton said. It sheds a new light on a program that hasnt been there for so long.
It could also help with recruiting.
Kids want to know that youre going to have a chance to play beyond your regular season, Pingeton said. Just to have people see us make those strides is a huge steppingstone.
Of course, that doesnt mean the NCAA Tournament is out of her sights, either.
If we can make a run and get in the conference championship game, wed have a chance, said Pingeton. But we havent even talked about that. Our focus is strictly on playing one game at a time and trying to take care of business.
As it should be. Seventh-seeded Vanderbilt enters with a 19-10 record, 9-7 mark in the SEC. The Commodores, who have made the NCAA Tournament for 13 consecutive seasons, handed the Tigers a 62-46 loss when the two teams met in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 14.
To win today, Pingeton said her team will need to focus on what it does well, like shooting the three-pointer the Tigers are fourth in the conference with a 33.9 percent mark and improve in some other areas, like their propensity to turn the ball over (they are last in the conference in turnover margin) and their transition defense.
But Pingeton is encouraged by the Tigers play of late they lost five games in a row before winning their last two regular season games and this is the time of year where teams can aim high, right?
Its March Madness, Pingeton said. Anything can happen.
Alabama 63, Mississippi State 36
In the opening game of the SEC womens tournament, the No. 13 seed, Alabama, avenged a 24-point regular-season loss to the No. 12 seed, Mississippi State.
Meghan Perkins scored 17 points to lead Alabama.
The Bulldogs 36 points equaled the fewest scored in tournament history
To reach Terez A. Paylor, send email to email@example.com or call 816-234-4489. Follow him at Twitter.com/TerezPaylor.