Missouri women’s basketball coach Robin Pingeton hoped that the 2013-14 season, her fourth in Columbia, might produce a breakthrough.
Instead, the Tigers went 6-10, like last year, in Southeastern Conference play, so the leap forward didn’t materialize.
“I had high expectations to be honest with you,” Pingeton said. “But I just think, with the youth that we have on our roster, I think you saw a lot of inconsistencies.”
Still, examine Missouri’s 17-12 record closely and there are undeniable signs of progress as the squad prepares for the SEC women’s tournament, which begins Wednesday in suburban Atlanta.
The Tigers, who are seeded 12th and open against Mississippi State, were 5-6 on the road, including a 3-5 mark in SEC play.
Away from Mizzou Arena this season, Missouri went 6-7 overall, which is easily the best winning percentage in road and neutral-site games on Pingeton’s watch.
“When you look at the scores from a lot of our games compared to a year ago, we didn’t have the blowouts that we did a year ago,” Pingeton said. “I thought we played people competitive, but we had a hard time finishing some of those games. I think that really comes down to having a young roster.”
The Tigers, who went 2-5 against the top seven teams in the SEC and 4-5 against the bottom half of the conference, were closer than many might think to that breakthrough.
Missouri’s average margin of defeat against the upper crust was only 8.2 points, compared with 9.6 points against the bottom half thanks to a couple of blowout losses to 10th-place LSU.
Of course, a strong run in the conference tournament would validate the baby steps the Tigers took as a program.
“I don’t know how you bottle that up and get (consistency) in one weekend, but we’ll certainly try to do that,” Pingeton said. “I think you’ve seen games where we really competed at a high level.”
Now comes the time to put some hard-learned lessons into practice.
“Everyone’s records go out the window, and it’s a fresh start for everybody,” Pingeton said. “You really just look at it as a one-game season, and if you want to advance, you’ve got to find a way to come up with a win.”
Pingeton said Missouri’s defense steadily has improved during conference play, so winning comes down to the Tigers’ ability to make shots.
Senior guard Bri Kulas, a Shawnee Mission North graduate by way of Johnson County Community College, leads the way.
Kulas, who started her career at Kansas State, averages 18.6 points, which ranks second in the SEC, and topped 1,000 career points during a Senior Night victory against Mississippi.
“She’s a special kid,” Pingeton said. “She knew what she was walking into two years ago. We’re a program that didn’t have a great history, so we’re trying to build something — create a culture and build a program. 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.”
Pingeton lauded her work ethic, including more than 20,000 shots this summer in practice, and praised the resiliency she’s shown as the lone senior in the every-game rotation.
“The thing that really stands out to me and what I’m most proud of is the growth that I’ve seen in just her character and her leadership skills,” Pingeton said.