With the regular season in the books, Mizzou’s hope for an NCAA Tournament bid hangs by a thread with a first round game against Arkansas on Thursday morning in Greenville, South Carolina.
Though Missouri was eager to celebrate Hayley Troup’s final regular season game on Sunday afternoon, the TIgers eventually fell to Florida 61-52 in what was a disappointing conclusion to an underwhelming regular season. Head coach Robin Pingeton couldn’t do anything but echo statements from previous losses, emphasizing a need to study film and her admiration for the team’s attitude and ambition.
“We’ve got to be able to close the book on this season, and open it up for this postseason and get ready for the SEC Tournament,” Pingeton said. “We all know March is a special month and you’ve got to find magic in a bottle and it’s got to happen quickly.”
At this point in the season, film and locker room presence only take a team so far. The Tigers face a Razorback squad which bested them in both of their meetings and have won nine straight in the series. Still, Pingeton and the Tigers go into Thursday’s game with a sense of resolve and determination befitting such a tenured team.
“We knew we’d have to go into the SEC [tournament] and get a win,” Pingeton said. “If we go in with our heads down and feeling sorry for ourselves, we won’t stand a chance, Arkansas is too good.”
In their two meetings this season, the Razorbacks’ defense dominated, holding the Tigers’ offense to 55 and 33 points on 28.7% shooting from the field and 20% from beyond the arc. On the other side of the ball, Arkansas flourished with 77 and 61 points, shooting 44.9% from the field and 36.1% from beyond the arc.
Should Missouri earn a win in the first round, it would have to overcome the defending national champion South Carolina in the quarterfinal and then win two more in order to secure a place in the national tournament. Any other outcome leaves the Tigers squarely out of legitimate tournament contention and looking at the WNIT.
“I think any time you can play Arkansas, a border rival in the postseason, it’s cool to get that win,” Troup said. “But more than anything, attacking the postseason and doing things we know we can do and accomplish, that would be huge for our team.”
While Missouri had every chance to stay on the bubble of the tournament with a couple key wins in its conference schedule, the Tigers finished 3-10 after starting 3-0. The Tigers’ loss to Florida on Sunday, as well as home losses to Tennessee and Alabama just weeks earlier, leave a bitter outlook on a Tigers’ team which easily could have been tournament-bound this Selection Sunday.
The Tigers are also worn thin in their lineup. They’ve missed Jayla Kelly in their last three games, and Pingeton believes she is close to a return. Sara-Rose Smith, the Tigers’ best player off the bench and a key depth piece, is playing through an injured hamstring at the end of the season. With a strung-out rotation and missing one of their best frontcourt players, the Tigers will certainly have a challenge come Thursday morning.