Coach Robin Pingeton describes her Missouri basketball team as 14 sisters.
Sibling rivalries aside, the Tigers are a close-knit unit. Let’s start with the twins, seniors Maddie and Morgan Stocks. The sister act is led by Lindsey and Sophie Cunningham and Bri and Cierra Porter. Michael Porter, father of Bri and Cierra, is an assistant coach. Porter is also head coach Robin Pingeton’s brother-in-law.
“There has never been a situation where there is any animosity or frustration between sisters,” Pingeton said before the team’s shoot-around Sunday at the Frank Erwin Center. “They want the best for each other, and I’d say that’s 1 through 14. That’s not a group that’s caught up in their minutes or starting lineups or rotations.”
These are the best of times for the Tigers, who defeated BYU 78-69 in an NCAA women’s tournament first-round game Saturday night. It came exactly 15 years after Missouri won its last tournament game.
Coming off a three-game losing streak – including a first-game exit from the SEC Tournament – and a 16-day layoff, one might assume the 10th-seeded Tigers were surprised by their effort against the seventh-seeded Cougars.
That’s not the case.
“Honestly, I wasn’t surprised, after the last couple of weeks we’ve had and that practices we’ve had,” Pingeton said. “But when you lose a few games like we did, it feels like you’re the only team going through that. There are a lot of great teams that stub their toe going into the postseason, and there are a lot of reasons that happens.”
The Tigers can advance to the Sweet 16 round of the Bridgport (Conn.) regional by defeating the host team, second-seeded Texas, at 8 p.m. Monday at the Erwin Center.
Former rivals from Missouri’s days as a Big 12 school, Texas owns a 22-2 all-time series lead. Yet players from both teams have a healthy respect for each other’s teams and neither is focused on Bridgeport now.
“Seeing Texas play (Saturday), they have some really big girls,” said freshman guard Sophie Cunningham, the team’s leading scorer (13.5 ppg.). “Their guards are a little smaller, so we might be able to take advantage of that.”
Missouri does not have a starter shorter than 6 feet. By comparison, Texas counters with three starting guards under 6 feet – 5-4 Brooke McCarty, 5-6 Celina Rodrigo and 5-9 Empress Davenport.
“I’m concerned with some of our size disadvantages,” Texas coach Karen Aston said. “But we’ve played a lot of different teams this year, so we do have some things to fall back on, and some memories about how we defended this or how we defended that.”
Monday’s winner will advance to the Sweet 16 round and play the winner of Monday’s UCLA-South Florida game on Saturday. A probable date with top-ranked and unbeaten Connecticut would be next if Missouri or Texas wins that game.
UConn still represents the best in women’s basketball. The Huskies own a rare statistical double – they lead in country in offense and defense.
“I think parity in college basketball has gotten better over the years, a lot better over the years,” Pingeton said. “There’s lot of parity, and then there’s UConn. And maybe a couple other ones.”
So, how does a team prepare for that assignment?
“I have no idea, because we haven’t been in that boat,” she said.
The Tigers another tall task – beating Texas – before they can think about next weekend, she said.