For the third year in a row, Missouri women’s basketball is headed back to the NCAA Tournament. The No. 5-seed Tigers will face No. 12-seed Florida Gulf Coast in the first round, with the game tipping at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Stanford.
Missouri is in the Lexington Region, but in the women’s tournament, the top 16 teams host first and second-round matchups. No. 4 Stanford and No. 13 Gonzaga are the other two teams in Missouri’s sub-regional, and the winners of those matchups will play on Monday before the winner heads to Lexington to play on March 23-24.
The Tigers (24-7) were holding out hope to host those first two rounds, but after a loss to Texas A&M in the final regular-season game and a second-round elimination to Georgia in the SEC Tournament, Missouri’s chances dwindled.
Missouri was No. 11 in the final NCAA reveal on Feb. 19, meaning the Tigers dropped six spots to boot them out of the top 16. The shaky end of the season took its toll on the committee’s view of Missouri.
Still, players, coaches and the fans who came to Mizzou Arena on Monday night for the selection show watch party were ecstatic to see Missouri flash across the screen.
“A few years ago, we’re on the edge of our seats trying to figure out if we’re going to make the tournament, and now the expectations are that we’re in a position to host,” Missouri head coach Robin Pingeton said. “So I guess in perspective, it’s a very positive, it means we’re moving the needle as a program, and we’re just looking forward to diving into that scouting report and playing on Saturday.”
When Jordan Frericks was a freshman in 2014, Missouri’s name wasn’t called for the NCAA Tournament. From her freshman year to now, she said all she’s focused on, hosting or not, is that her team is still playing.
“My mind was really just whatever opportunity comes, I’m going to be excited,” Frericks said. “Like I said, freshman year, we didn’t get this opportunity. And we’re still a five seed.”
It’s Missouri’s highest seed since the bracket expanded to 64 teams, and the three-year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances is the program's longest since 1982-1986.
Last season, the Tigers made it to the second round before losing 77-55 to Florida State in Tallahassee, Florida. Missouri also was eliminated in the second round in 2016, when it lost to Texas, 73-55. The last time the Tigers made it to the Sweet Sixteen was in 2001, when they lost 78-67 in the East Regional.
This year, Missouri has a pretty good chance to make it to Lexington and beyond, even without hosting the sub-regional. Louisville (32-2) is the No. 1 seed in the Lexington Region. No. 2 Baylor (31-1) and No. 3 Tennessee (24-7) are the other top seeds in the region.
First, though, the Tigers will need to fix their late-season offensive struggles. Missouri runs a motion offense, and when it's off, it’s obvious. The Tigers shot 27 percent from the field in its game against Georgia in the conference tournament.
Florida Gulf Coast shoots a ton of three-pointers — 34 per game, which leads the country. The Eagles beat Kentucky 70-64 on Dec. 8; Missouri also beat the Wildcats exactly two months later.
One of the best things about facing an Atlantic Sun Conference opponent, though?
It’s not the SEC.
“The SEC is such a tough league,” Pingeton said. “You have seven teams in the top 25, it’s night in and night out. There’s not an easy team in the league, so just to get some fresh faces, and we know it’s going to be tough. If you’re in the NCAAs, you’re in the elite field.”
“Let me tell you, I’m excited to play someone different, I’m ready for a different experience almost,” Sophie Cunningham said. “I’m really confident in our team, and everyone is really ready and kind of biting at the bit to get going.”