Milestone at Mizzou Arena: Pingeton earns win No. 500
When the fourth quarter of Missouri women's basketball's Sunday matinee against the Vanderbilt Commodores started, with the outcome of the game already largely decided, the energy in Mizzou Arena changed.
It was as if Missouri fans were watching their team in the late innings of a Max Scherzer no-hitter, waiting anxiously for the game to end for one reason: to witness history.
When the final horn sounded and the Tigers mobbed their head coach in the coaching box, Mizzou Arena roared as loudly as it has all season.
Sophie Cunningham poured in 27 points, Cierra Porter added 15 points and seven rebounds and Robin Pingeton earned her 500th career win as a head coach in a 69-46 Missouri victory.
With silly string on her shoulders and hair and a smile on her face, Pingeton made sure to acknowledge all of the other people who have made her accomplishment possible.
"This is about a lot of people; this isn't just about me," Pingeton said. "I mean, are you kidding me? I've had coached some great players; I've had some great assistant coaches; I've had some great administration, great fanbases. ... This is so much bigger than one person."
The Tigers (18-7, 7-4 Southeastern Conference) led wire-to-wire and allowed their second-fewest points in conference play this season. It was the first conference game in which all 13 of Missouri's healthy players saw the floor.
Getting to play every healthy player on her roster made the win all the sweeter for Pingeton.
"Even though we didn't play perfect and had some mishaps, I thought we played pretty darn well for 40 minutes tonight," Pingeton said. "We got a lot of kids a lot of minutes, and it's always fun when you get to do things like that."
It was immediately apparent Cunningham and the Tigers were intent on playing a strong game for their coach. Missouri's best player drained her first four attempts from beyond the 3-point line to giver her team an early 12-2 lead. When she hit her fourth, she beamed as she shimmied off the court toward her coaches and teammates.
It was exactly the kind of start that Cunningham hoped to have.
"We were all focused on getting it for Coach P today," Cunningham said. "For us to start out strong, I think is huge, but we maintained it. ... Today was her day."
It wasn't just Cunningham who answered the call to make Pingeton's 500th victory a relatively easy one. Porter went 6-of-9 from the field and posted her season-high in points scored, and redshirt senior guard Lauren Aldridge chipped in two key 3s and four assists. It was one of Missouri's more efficient offensive games this year: Despite committing 15 turnovers, the Tigers still scored on more than 43 percent of their possessions.
Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White, whose team fell to 6-17 on the season, said her team could never recover from its slow start.
"They just out-toughed us," White said. "They're a hard team to play; they're very disciplined, and they play with multiple levels of effort. It's tough to come into an environment where a team dominates on its home court and make these kind of mistakes."
After the game, Pingeton was presented with flowers and a framed poster commemorating the successes of a coaching career that's spanned more than 23 years. She looked to the rafters as Missouri's video scoreboard played tributes to her from past players and administrators. She even briefly acknowledged the crowd, which laughed as she joked that 500 wins just meant she was "getting old."
Through all the festivities, Pingeton showed her appreciation but maintained that she's keeping her focus on Missouri's next opponent: No. 6 Mississippi State, whom the Tigers will face in Starkville, Mississippi, at 8 p.m. Thursday. She got emotional only when asked about what it meant to get her 500th career win with her niece Porter and Cunningham still on her team.
"I'm not ready to talk about (that) ... not yet, no," Pingeton said. "It all happens pretty quick, and we're focused in the moment, but they've been a pretty big part of this program and the growth that we've had. Senior day is going to be tough, but it'll be alright. We'll be alright."
"It's really so hard to celebrate her, and it's hard to crack her because she really is so selfless," Cunningham said. "There's just not a coach like that around the country. I guarantee it."
Supervising editor is Eric Lee.