The night of the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Selection Show, Missouri knew it wouldn’t hear its name called, but coach Robin Pingeton assembled the team at her house to watch the field be announced anyway.
“You paint a picture of where you’re trying to get to and for them to visually see that is really important … as you continue to build a program,” Pingeton said of last March’s gathering.
It certainly resonated with the Tigers, who haven’t reached the NCAA tourney since 2005-06 but did play in the Women’s NIT each of the last three seasons.
“It was fun to see the other teams excited and happy that they were going,” senior guard Maddie Stock said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I definitely want to be a part of that,’ so I feel like it was also kind of motivating to everybody that, ‘Yeah, that’s going to be us next year.’”
Missouri will gather again Monday for another selection show, but it won’t be a private affair this time. The public is invited to Mizzou Arena at 5 p.m. to watch with the team as the 2016 brackets are unveiled at 6 p.m. on ESPN.
The Tigers, 21-9, rolled through non-conference play undefeated for the first time in program history and finished 8-8 in Southeastern Conference play.
Missouri also ended the season on a three-game losing streak, including a home loss to struggling Vanderbilt and a first-round exit in the conference tourney courtesy of Auburn, leaving a twinge of doubt about the Tigers’ tournament-worthiness.
“We feel like we’ve hopefully done enough to get into that Big Dance, but we’re not going to get our hopes too high yet,” junior guard Lindsey Cunningham said. “In past years, we were coming back to practice and not even knowing if we had a postseason chance. It’s good to know that we’re out here working for hopefully an NCAA bid. It’s a different feel and gets us motivated more.”
Despite the late-season hiccups, ESPN women’s basketball bracketologist Charlie Creme doesn’t think Missouri needs to fret much. He has the Tigers as a No. 9 seed, going against Duquesne in presumptive No. 1 overall seed Connecticut’s pod.
“Prior to those losses, I had them a ... little higher than I have them now, but I think they’re a lock because you have to ask yourself the question, ‘If you don’t put Missouri in, who are you replacing them with?’ ” Creme said. “When you look at the teams you might replace them with, they don’t stack up to Missouri’s resume.”
That’s music to the ears of freshman guard Sophie Cunningham, who wouldn’t care if Mizzou was a No. 16 seed playing UConn on the moon.
“Honestly, I don’t care who and I don’t really care where either,” she said. “I just want to be in it.”
Pingeton feels the same way and believes the Tigers have done enough to earn an NCAA berth, but she’s not going to celebrate until she sees Missouri’s name appear in a bracket during the selection show.
“It’s a huge step, another huge step for our program,” Pingeton said of the possibility. “For people to look at the growth that we’ve had over the last several years, it’s time for that next step.”
Especially for the seniors, who arrived in Pingeton’s third season and will leave as the first class to reach the postseason all four years since 2003-04, it’s going to be a rewarding and exhilarating moment.
“It would be amazing,” senior guard Morgan Stock said. “We have worked really hard and come a long way since my freshman year to my senior year, where we are now. It’s been hard, it’s been fun, we’ve been through everything and it would be an awesome way to end my career here.”
Attendees for Mizzou’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show Watch Party should park in Lot P on the southwest side of Mizzou Arena. Pingeton and selected players will address the crowd, and light snacks and water will be provided.