Blum: Mizzou women's basketball embraced Robin Pingeton's mentality, and it's paying off

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Robin Pingeton didn't cave.

When Missouri's 12th-year women's basketball head coach was asked if she'd seen something different from her team in the pair of overtime victories to begin Southeastern Conference play, Pingeton shook her head from left to right.

Thursday's 72-63 victory over Auburn means the Tigers still haven't won a league game in regulation. But MU remains unblemished in SEC play.

The Tigers' two triumphs to begin their league slate fall at opposite ends of the spectrum. Missouri's shorthanded takedown of the nation's top team resembles the "Miracle on Ice" and can't be expected every time out.

According to Pingeton, the win over Auburn was "clanky," meaning messy or disorganized per Urban Dictionary.

But it's clear the Tigers are rising to the standard set by their coach.

Missouri head coach Robin Pingeton walks off the court after the Tigers beat Auburn 72-63 on Thursday at Mizzou Arena. Pingeton was named coach of the week by both WHoopDirt.com and ESPN's Mechelle Voepel after upsetting No. 1 South Carolina.
Missouri head coach Robin Pingeton walks off the court after the Tigers beat Auburn 72-63 on Thursday at Mizzou Arena. Pingeton was named coach of the week by both WHoopDirt.com and ESPN's Mechelle Voepel after upsetting No. 1 South Carolina.

"This is the team that we said we were going to be six months ago. We made a commitment," Pingeton said. "And we knew it wasn't always going to be 70 and sunny, and we knew there were going to be hard days. And we knew there's going to be distractions and outside voices and frustrations. It's just part of the season. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

"... But this group has collectively leaned into those core values and has shown up every day and pretty darn consistently lived out the core values that we said we're going to live out, and I'm really proud of them. I'm not surprised. I've been with them the last six, seven months and it's been a really cool journey."

More: What we learned from Mizzou women's basketball's 72-63 overtime win over Auburn

None of the distractions from the first week of 2022 have gotten in the Tigers' way so far.

Missouri, despite being 13-2 overall, hasn't had a scout team for practices since after its win over Alabama A&M on Dec. 12.

Due to coronavirus protocols, MU hasn't had a full team practice in around two weeks. That can make things, well, clanky.

Auburn has a scrappy, newfound swagger under first-year head coach Johnnie Harris and nearly toppled Missouri. The traveling Tigers came out with something to prove, much the same way Missouri did against South Carolina.

The biggest and most important difference is Missouri won both games.

Missouri's LaDazhia Williams (0) huddles with her teammates after a 72-63 win over Auburn on Thursday at Mizzou Arena. Williams scored a career-high 25 points.
Missouri's LaDazhia Williams (0) huddles with her teammates after a 72-63 win over Auburn on Thursday at Mizzou Arena. Williams scored a career-high 25 points.

Victories are not usually as fulfilling as the win over South Carolina. They rarely are. The 16-game SEC gauntlet is designed to test the combatants. No one comes out unscathed, no matter their record.

LaDazhia Williams overcame getting her head stepped on inadvertently in the second quarter to score a career-high 25 points against Auburn.

AIjha Blackwell hadn't practiced for 10 days. She posted her evergreen double-double; her 10th of the season.

Kwiecinski: If you're not paying attention to Mizzou women's basketball, you should be now

"I think just thinking back to the last six months and finding something deeper, getting outside yourself and just fighting for the team," Blackwell said of how she produced despite limited practice in recent weeks.

The Tigers are likable and fun to watch. And MU plays with unquestioned confidence, leading to results the program hasn't seen in at least three years.

"It's all about really just trusting the process and just realizing our goals and where we want to be," Williams said. "It's always hard work to get to your goals."

The Missouri bench celebrates after a basket in the second half against Auburn on Thursday at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers' reserves scored 13 points compared to Auburn's two.
The Missouri bench celebrates after a basket in the second half against Auburn on Thursday at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers' reserves scored 13 points compared to Auburn's two.

It's an unfair stigma surrounding Pingeton's legacy at Missouri that the Tigers haven't made an NCAA Tournament without Sophie Cunningham on the roster. That was four straight trips and three postseason wins. MU then struggled, winning just 18 games in the two years after "The Mayor of Columbia" was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury.

The stalled-out trend is going to end in two months. Barring a major collapse, Missouri is going dancing. The Tigers will be one of 68 teams vying for a national championship.

Looking beyond the consecutive extra-period victories, the steady build through recruiting and player development of the Tigers is a masterclass by Pingeton.

The tide can turn for the worse any night, but for now, her talks of diamonds being formed in the fires and using the hardships of the last two seasons for the better of the team wasn't just a cliche.

Pingeton will always pass credit off to her players, even when it's clear she completely outsmarted and outcoached Gamecocks head coach — and 2021 Olympic gold medal winner — Dawn Staley over a week ago.

Eric Blum
Eric Blum

Missouri's roster and other staff members deserve a ton of credit for the rise of the Tigers. But being at the top of an organization means you're responsible for everything.

Pingeton took it on the chin when times were tough.

She has earned the kudos coming now.

"On poor teams, nobody leads. On good teams, coaches lead. On great teams, players lead, and it's hard to always be a leader," Pingeton said. "It's hard to always have your mind right. But to challenge these guys, to make sure they're leaning in and using their voices and saying who they said they were going to be six months ago.

"The quick response and the ability to get in that mindset and put 'we over me,' that's huge."

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Missouri women's basketball's grind-first rituals are paying off

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