Video & Transcript: Missouri Looking Forward to Hawkeye Challenge
THE MODERATOR: With us today are Missouri Head Coach Robin Pingeton; student-athletes, Sophie Cunningham and Jordan Roundtree.
ROBIN PINGETON: First of all, thank you guys for coming out. We’re obviously very excited to be sitting here today. Last night’s game was an awfully tough game against a really, really talented team, and I know I gave them as many props as I could last night, but I truly feel they had a phenomenal year, and they’ve got a great program, and that was definitely a battle. But we’re looking forward to the prep again against a very good team. Lisa obviously has been a great mentor and a friend to me. But honestly the focus, I think, is just preparing for our team to play their team. You don’t really think too much about the friendship, the relationship. At least I don’t because your focus is on your next opponent.
I’m excited for our kids. I think they’re in a good place. I think it was good to get that game under our belt, playing in a new facility. We’d played here last year. I think it was last year. So to get out there on that court and get that first game under our belt I think was big and we’re looking forward to have an opportunity to play a really good team.
We know it’s going to be a great environment. The turnout for the game for Iowa yesterday was just phenomenal and I’m sure it’ll be a packed house tomorrow. So we know it’s going to be a battle and we know it’s going to be a great environment, and we’re just really blessed and excited to see another day in the NCAA Tournament.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up to questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Sophie, you guys have been in this position in the second round before. I guess what’s the difficulty of preparing for a game on one day’s notice in this kind of tournament.
SOPHIE CUNNINGHAM: I think we’re used to it. I think early in the season we go to tournaments, and it’s a one-day tournament. You don’t even have 24 hours to prepare. And we just got done with the SEC tournament. It’s the same exact deal. So having that experience under our belt, especially for the younger classmen on our team, I think it’s really good for us.
Q. Sophie, just what would it mean to you to get to the Sweet 16 for the first time in your career?
SOPHIE CUNNINGHAM: I think it would be awesome. I mean this is what I want. I think it’s what every team wants. So it’s definitely going to be a battle, it’s going to be a great game. She hit on it, great environment, kind of like that South Carolina environment. So we have that experience under our belt, too.
But it’s going to be fun, and I can’t wait for tomorrow. We prepared. We know what we’re going to do, so now we just have to go out there and execute.
Q. Sophie, you’ve seen Jordan really kind of grow up since she came here as a freshman. For a lot of people, what she did on the floor yesterday might be kind of a surprise, but does that kind of speak to the growth she’s made since she’s gone from a freshman to her time now?
SOPHIE CUNNINGHAM: Absolutely, and I think she’s made tremendous strides. I mean everyone knew she had it in her. She’s one of the most athletic people on our team. And for her to go out there and step up and really own that moment, I’m just super proud of her. I knew she was going to knock it down, and she went out there and executed.
Q. Sophie, just your preliminary thoughts about facing Megan Gustafson and the challenge that she brings?
SOPHIE CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, she’s a great player. Great player, and she’s a lot of their offense and we’re going to have to shut her down, but I know our team is prepared. We’re ready to go, and I think from top to bottom we know what we have to get done.
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Q. Did you learn anything from the way Mercer attacked Megan Gustafson yesterday?
SOPHIE CUNNINGHAM: Honestly, we’ve watched film, and we have some idea. I’m not going to give you our game plan. That would be dumb of me. So our teams know what we need to do to get done. But, yeah, they played a heck of a game yesterday. Both teams did, and it was a battle.
Q. Jordan, what’s the reaction been from friends and family from that game-winning free throw that you hit yesterday?
JORDAN ROUNDTREE: Yeah. I mean I have a great support system. It starts in the locker room. Obviously everyone, you know, we’ve talked about it some, but it’s a new day. But my friends and my family have been great. They’re just happy to see me play on this stage. They know it means a lot to the team, and I’m just happy that I have that support system that watches every single game, follows everything we do. So I’ve been blessed in that manner.
Q. Robin, I know it’s not your team culture to be on wins and what happens on the court, but what would it mean for this senior class to get a fourth tournament win when there hadn’t been a senior class that had three before yesterday?
ROBIN PINGETON: You know, I didn’t even realize that. I don’t even know who brought it to my attention, but that’s pretty remarkable. This senior class just means so much to us, and, you know, every season is so unique. Every team is so unique. The journey is different. But obviously this senior class has had a lot of success and has helped us elevate our program to a national level. And, you know, it’s just interesting because Cierra and Sophie, I’ve known them, well, Cierra my whole life and then Sophie since she was just a junior high kid, just running around with her long blonde ponytail and been around the arena with her sister playing for us. The history is so much deeper, I guess maybe with this senior class. And then Lauren, who’s obviously just been a huge impact for our program.
But it would mean a lot. I mean I think anytime you’re trying to blaze a new trail, you know, make history, history is a big deal. That hasn’t been done before. That’s an incredible opportunity. And I think more than anything, though, I think sooner or later, you know, you forget about the records. You forget about the scores of the game and you remember the relationships. And I think that’s what we’re all trying to hold onto the longest or the most that we can is being able to battle together. It’s a pretty special group, pretty special culture. And, you know, we came in as a team, and we’re leaving — they’re leaving as sisters, and that bond is just something that’s hard to let go of at the end of the season. But we’re going to embrace it and try and hold onto it as long as we can.
Q. Obviously it’s been a while since you played for Lisa and the game has changed a lot since you were playing, but is there anything that you can kind of see from coaching and playing for her in her team that has carried over all these years or is it just night and day given the time that’s elapsed?
ROBIN PINGETON: You’re trying to age me a little bit? (Laughs).
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Q. I didn’t use numbers for a reason.
ROBIN PINGETON: I think she was a great coach when I played for her. You know, I just — and I think she teaches fundamentals really, really well. I think she’s got a great staff. Yeah, I think the game’s changed a lot. You know, offenses have changed. Defenses have changed. So, yes, a lot’s changed since back in the days I played for her and coached with her, but I think she’s always been really, really good at the fundamentals; and when you look at the University of Iowa women’s basketball team, they’re a really fundamentally sound, well-balanced team. And they’re really good. So we’re going to have our hands full.
Q. Robin, you’ve mentioned a lot this year, especially early in the year, just the journey Jordan Roundtree has been on. For you what’s it like when you think back to that journey to see her have such a big day on this type of stage?
ROBIN PINGETON: Yeah, it’s really cool. You know, we talked a little bit, golly, I don’t know if it was yesterday or the day before. I can’t remember, but we were talking about how she used to come to our camps. She came to our camps forever as a little kid, and she was decked out from head to toe in everything Mizzou, and she was just talking about as a little kid —
Oh, I know how it happened. So our alumni had sent letters back to our current roster. Different alumni, each one sent a letter to one of our current players, and they were just talking about laying the foundation, playing for the front of the jersey. You know, they’re doing things that they never had a chance to do. And so that’s how the conversation started.
And she said, I remember coming to camps, looking up to these girls, and now they’re writing me notes, and how much it meant to her. And just to see the growth in her on and off the court has been really special. And certainly, you know, on the court she’s impacting our program in a very big way. But to me as a coach the most gratifying thing is to see her grow as a person. Her voice, her leadership in the locker room, the way she carries herself, the way she handles adversity, you know, to me that’s really the most rewarding thing that I get to see as a coach, because I’ve seen the progress from that freshman year to where she’s at now.
Q. Robin, you’ve had to deal with a few different post players throughout SEC play, namely Teaira McCowan. I’m just curious what different challenges does Megan pose for you guys compared to what you’ve seen so far this year?
ROBIN PINGETON: Yeah. She’s as good as advertised. I’ve watched as much film as I could with trying to get a little bit of sleep. She’s got a great touch, great feel. Her teammates do a great job getting the ball to her, in great positions. And so we have had the experience of playing against other great post players, with McCowan, and you think about Asia Wilson. You know, and you gotta game plan. We’ve got a plan going into this. We might tweak a few things in the next 24 hours. But I think you’ve gotta be a little bit creative because she’s a hard guard for sure.
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Q. Robin, I know kind of outside of the program a lot of people said like the next kind of step for these seniors is to make the second weekend of the tournament for the first time. Is that something that they’ve talked about or expressed as a goal throughout the season or is that something that’s been left more unsaid?
ROBIN PINGETON: I think for sure. I think we’ve absolutely talked about it. I think, you know, I mean anyone that’s coaching is trying to compete for a National Championship. Right? But then there’s steps to that. You want to get a conference championship. You want to get, you know, first round NCAA, second round. I mean it’s a natural progression. And some of those goals that we had this season we didn’t get accomplished.
I always tell our players, though, their value comes from who they are, not what they do, and so even though that goal is out there, it doesn’t define how successful they are as an individual. And I think it’s really important that they understand that. And again, I think sooner or later you forget the scores, you forget the records and the growth and the relationships are what lasts.
But absolutely. A chance for them to get to Sweet 16 would be awfully special. And I think it’s going to be a battle tomorrow. I think both teams obviously advance and survive and advance, and it’s a big opportunity that’s in front of us. But that game tomorrow will not define our season nor will it define the incredible young ladies that I’m so blessed to coach every day.
Q. You and Iowa both just survived yesterday. What’s been your experience as a coach when you kind of get a new lease on life like that? Do you see great performances the next timeout or what’s been the history?
ROBIN PINGETON: Well, it didn’t work out very well for us in the SEC tournament. We got Kentucky in overtime and then we lost to Mississippi State. So hopefully we’re not going to go based on history and what that looks like. But it’s just — we’re playing in the NCAA Tournament and you got great competition.
I think everybody would agree that Drake clearly is not a 10 seed. Right? I mean don’t we all think they’re probably a little bit better than a 10 seed. They’ve got a great program. Jenny has done a great job, and it was a battle. But we all — our student-athletes understand what’s at stake, and you gotta live to play another day, and we got a chance to do that, and we’re going to embrace it. We’re going to embrace today leading up to our prep for Iowa and then we’re going to embrace tomorrow and we’ll see how it all falls out in the end.
Q. Did you know this day would come when you would coach against the old coach, Lisa Bluder, some day? Did you know it would come?
ROBIN PINGETON: Well, you know what, actually last year we played in their tournament and we lost our first-round game. And so if we would have won, we would have played them. So even coming back to their tournament last year we knew that there would be a chance that that would happen. Obviously, I’m trying to schedule closer to home just for my dad more than anything to be honest with you, when he was still alive.
But definitely, I understand the dynamics, coaching against Bill Finley, coaching against Lisa Bluder, the relationships, the friendships. It’s just always a little bit — it’s just different. Probably none of us really like it, but at the same time I think as a coach you get so lost in your prep and your scout that with time, you know, you’re not even thinking about those kind of things.