The Missouri women’s basketball team is in the NCAA Tournament, but the Tigers fell short of a season-long goal.
They will not be a top-16 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, which means they will not host the first two rounds of the tournament at Mizzou Arena.
Missouri (24-7) will be a No. 5 seed in the Lexington (Ky.) Regional. Despite the disappointment for MU, this is the highest seed the Tigers have ever received in the 64-team format of the tournament. They will travel to Palo Alto, Calif. to play No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast (30-4) on Saturday. The game will tip off at 2:30 p.m. Central time and air on ESPN2.
The winner advances to the second round Monday against either No. 4 seed Stanford or No. 13 seed Gonzaga. The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in Lexington are March 23 and 25.
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The NCAA’s final bracket reveal — which came out before the end of the regular season — had Missouri as the tournament’s No. 11 overall seed and playing in the Spokane, Wash., regional. But then the Tigers lost two of their past three games.
They finished the regular season with a 19-point defeat at Texas A&M, and they fell to Georgia in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Georgia, Texas A&M, Stanford and N.C. State are the tournament's No. 4 seeds. Of those teams, only Georgia (26) had a lower RPI than Mizzou (24) — but the Tigers were 0-2 against the Bulldogs this season.
Of Mizzou’s seven losses this season, six came against SEC teams that are currently ranked. The other one came against Western Kentucky, which won the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles.
“You start to compare who beat who at home or away. There’s a lot of things you could dive into,” said coach Robin Pingeton, whose program will play in the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year. “Bottom line, it’s been a great year, and we’re looking forward to playing in the NCAA Tournament.”
When Missouri returned from the conference tournament in Nashville, Tenn., about two weeks ago, Pingeton told her players they were probably not going to host tournament games. She figured they would all be better off “as soon as they had time to digest it and accept it.”
Pingeton was hoping that, if nothing else, falling out of the top 16 would allow her team to end up in the Kansas City Regional. But that didn’t happen either.
If Mizzou makes a deep run this postseason, it will likely have to face Louisville, the Atlantic Coast Conference champion and the No. 1 seed in the Lexington regional.
In the 10 days since their early exit from the SEC Tournament, the Tigers have focused on tightening up their motion and transition offense. In that conference tournament loss, Georgia held Missouri to a season-low 41 points, but “things are starting to feel normal again,” point guard Lauren Aldridge said.
Pingeton knew little about her first-round opponent. She had seen the Eagles play once this season, while scouting Kentucky. The Atlantic Sun champions lead the country in three-point attempts. They average 33.1 per game.
So defending the three-point line will be the start to Mizzou’s attempt to make its first Sweet 16 since 2011.
“It’s not new to us anymore,” junior forward Cierra Porter said of the NCAA Tournament. “We have expectations. It’s different teams. Teams we’re not used to playing. You have to go there and take care of yourself first and foremost. We’re just in the mindset. We’re in attack mode. We’re ready to go.”