Missouri’s women are 13-0 and riding the longest win streak in program history, but the season begins in earnest at 6 p.m. Monday at Mizzou Arena.
That’s when the No. 23 Tigers open SEC play against No. 13 Tennessee.
Missouri’s nonconference slate included only one Power Five opponent — Colorado, which the Tigers outlasted 79-75 on Dec. 12 in Boulder.
Missouri’s strength of schedule is ranked No. 185 in the country, and things are about to change dramatically for the Tigers, who face four ranked teams during the first six games to open SEC play.
It starts with the Volunteers, 9-3, before consecutive road games at Georgia, which is receiving votes and effectively is ranked 28th in the Associated Press poll, and No. 2 South Carolina
Missouri’s rugged start to conference play concludes with games against No. 8 Mississippi State and at No. 16 Texas A&M sandwiched around a trip to Arkansas.
“We are aware of how tough it’s going to get, but I think we play a fun, exciting style,” MU coach Robin Pingeton said. “We are winning, and our fans have been great coming out to support us. … We understand what’s in front of us with SEC play, with Tennessee.”
The Tigers are in the midst of an historic season.
The 13-0 broke the program record for the most wins to begin a season, which had been a 9-0 start during the 1982-83 season.
The 13-game win streak also matches the longest at any point in program history, tying the streak by the 1984-85 squad from Jan. 30-March 9.
Pingeton knows that such accolades won’t matter much if Missouri doesn’t back up its strong early-season showing with an equally strong showing in conference play.
“We’re pumped,” junior forward Jordan Frericks said. “We’re so excited. Just how our nonconference did, we know what we can do and we’re just so excited to have our next component of our season.”
The Tigers have reached the Women’s NIT each of the last three seasons and battled into the tourney’s Sweet Sixteen last season.
Missouri hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since the 2005-06 season, a pattern it intends to break.
Beating Tennessee would be a big step toward that goal.
“We are nowhere near satisfied in regards to the big picture of the season, but we’re really pleased with the growth that we’ve seen …,” Pingeton said. “I don't know that you can ever quite prepare enough for the SEC when you look at how challenging it is, but I do think (our nonconference schedule) served its purpose and I think we gained a lot of confidence. You can’t put a price tag on that.”
Women’s basketball has seen a steady rise in popularity the last few seasons with attendance rising from 1,393 in 2012-13 to 1,419 in 2013-14 to 1,696 last season.
Buoyed by the second-largest women’s basketball crowd in Mizzou Arena history and sixth-biggest home crowd in program history for a Dec. 29 doubleheader with the men’s team, Missouri is averaging 3,148 for eight home games this season — an increase of 85.6 percent.
“It’s definitely got a different feel out there and there is a buzz,” Pingeton said. “I think part of that is because we’ve got so many local kids on our team that are really talented.”
That buzz will continue to grow if Missouri can knock off Tennessee.
“It’s more about the expectations and the standards that we have for ourselves,” Pingeton said. “It’s not about the other jersey. It’s about playing at the standard we want to play at. … Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do, but we are excited about what’s in front of us.”
The MU athletic department is encouraging fans wear white for the game and to purchase advance tickets as a large walk-up crowd is expected. The Mizzou Arena ticket office opens at 8 a.m. Monday.