. Missouri made program history Friday night with a thrilling come-from-behind win against South Florida in the opening round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The No. 6 seed Tigers advanced to the second round when senior guard Sierra Michaelis’ putback with 0.6 seconds left delivered a 66-64 win against the No. 11 seed Bulls inside Florida State’s Tucker Center.
“I thought they showed great resiliency,” said coach Robin Pingeton, whose team overcame a 13-point halftime deficit. “South Florida’s got a great program, and it definitely took a 40-minute effort.”
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With the win, Mizzou has won an NCAA tourney game in back-to-back seasons for the first time and, in doing so, took another step toward the goal of national prominence.
“I didn’t really know that until I saw a tweet about it last night, but … it’s part of building a program and I think that’s a pretty good step,” senior guard Lindsey Cunningham said.
Before last season’s first-round upset against BYU, the Tigers hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2001, but the expectations seem to be changing dramatically after three straight years of postseason success, including a Women’s NIT quarterfinal run in 2015.
“Coach P told us that’s where we were headed and that’s what we were trying to do, but along the way, man, it’s a lot harder journey than you could ever dream or ever imagine,” redshirt senior point guard Lianna Doty said.
When Cunningham and Doty arrived in 2012, Missouri was coming off back-to-back 13-18 campaigns in Pingeton’s first two years with the program.
The Tigers have won at least 17 games and reached postseason play during all five seasons since, including consecutive 22-win campaigns for the first time since 1985.
“We were recruited here to help build a program, and it’s just really cool to see that in progress right now,” Michaelis said.
As happy as Mizzou (22-10), which plays No. 3 seed and host Florida State (26-6) at 6 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2 in the second round, is with progress, there’s no satisfaction in merely making the second round again.
The Tigers are aiming for an upset and the third Sweet Sixteen berth in program history (1982, 2001).
“Coming in here, all of us girls knew we’re not an elite program right now, but we’re making huge strides and we want to build a program,” sophomore guard Sophie Cunningham said. “We’re doing little things that are actually kind of big things when you go to look back on it. We’re making big strides for this program and it’s exciting. (Beating FSU) would be an awesome win for us — huge for our program and huge recruiting-wise.”
Mizzou was in a similar position last season against Texas, which was a No. 2 seed in the 2016 tourney and blew out Pingeton’s crew 73-55.
“We were kind of in awe that we were even in the NCAA Tournament,” Michaelis said. “This year, I feel like we’re way more comfortable here and we’re really trying to get more wins than last year.”
The Tigers almost blew that chance with a sluggish first half against the Bulls in the opening round, but they believe any postseason jitters were exorcized by the comeback victory.
“As much as we talk about ‘pretend like it’s just any other game,’ it’s not,” Lindsey Cunningham said. “It’s the NCAA Tournament. It’s March.”
Doty, who was held out of the starting lineup for the first time in 22 games Friday after being under the weather this week, is expected to return to the lineup against the Seminoles.
She’s also convinced the team is better prepared for its upset bid than this time last season.
“There’s definitely a level of maturity and understanding of what it takes to win at this level and make it farther,” Doty said.