Postseason honors started pouring in Tuesday for the Missouri women’s basketball team, which tied for third the in the Southeastern Conference despite losing its leading rebounder for the last three years one month before the season.
Tigers coach Robin Pingeton was chosen by her peers as the SEC Coach of the Year, while sophomore guard Sophie Cunningham was an All-SEC first-team selection and freshman guard Amber Smith was chosen as the SEC Co-Freshman of the Year.
“Sophie Cunningham, first-team All-SEC — she’s extremely deserving of that,” Pingeton said. “Amber Smith, I thought that was a really special award for her to make the All-Freshman team and to be named Co-Freshman of the Year. That’s just great recognition for her.”
No other MU players were among the seven remaining first-team or nine second-team selections.
“I thought there was a chance we could have gotten one more kid on that first or second team,” Pingeton said. “I was a little disappointed to see that (sophomore forward) Cierra Porter or (senior guard) Sierra Michaelis (didn’t make it). I thought they both would have a chance at it. My guess is they probably cancelled each other’s votes out a little depending on how they played against different teams.”
Pingeton has guided Mizzou (21-9, 11-5 SEC), which lost senior forward Jordan Frericks and key reserve Bri Porter to torn ACLs before the season, to consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time 1987.
She joins Joann Rutherford — who won Big Eight Coach of the Year three times in 1984, 1985 and 1990 — as the second coach in program history to win conference coach of the year.
“I’m certainly humbled by that recognition and really appreciate those votes from the coaches in this league,” Pingeton said. “I’ve got so much respect and there are so many great coach in this league that do a tremendous job. I really have a lot of respect for my counterparts throughout the SEC, but it’s a team award. It really is.”
Pingeton, who previously won Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year honors with Illinois State in 2004 and 2010, has led the Tigers to five straight winning seasons for the first time since 1990.
“I am happy that Robin’s peers have recognized the outstanding job she and her staff have done this season,” Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk said in a release. “In my short time here, I’ve been very impressed with Robin’s work ethic, her passion for Mizzou and the excellent example of leadership and humility she sets for the student-athletes and the Columbia community.”
Cunningham, of course, is the engine that makes No. 23 Mizzou go.
Her team-high 17.8 points per game, including four consecutive 20-point efforts to close the regular season and 10 overall, rank second in the SEC.
Cunningham — who averages 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, both second on the Tigers — also ranks second in free-throw shooting at 84.4 percent.
Finally, Smith is the fourth freshman of the year winner for Mizzou, joining Cunningham last season, along with Kesha Bonds (1996, Big Eight) and Julie Helm (1997, Big 12).
Smith, who shared the award with Florida’s Delicia Washington, averaged 5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game, making nine starts in 30 appearances and averaging 16.3 minutes per game.
She shot an astounding 48.5 percent from three-point range during the regular season, which is a program record (minimum 30 attempts).
The Tigers’ season continues Friday with the quarterfinals of the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament in Greenville, S.C.
Seeded No. 3 for the tourney, Pingeton’s squad received a double-bye and awaits sixth-seeded Texas A&M, 11th-seeded Florida or 14th-seeded Arkansas for an approximately 7:30 p.m. tipoff.
“I look forward to seeing what (Pingeton) and the program can accomplish this postseason and beyond,” Sterk said.