COLUMBIA — After Missouri handed No. 18 Texas A&M a 70-65 overtime loss Thursday night, Aggies head coach Gary Blair was relieved, not at the outcome of that game, but of the Tigers' prior loss at LSU.
Blair, a naturally gregarious man, has the added advantage of both a National Championship which he won at A&M in 2011 and the respect conferred upon a coach who has been winning as a college head coach for more than 30 years, which allows him to be more direct with media.
"What I was really happy for, I was happy for Robin, because she'll get her 500th against Vanderbilt, probably," Blair said Thursday. "I was just happy it wasn't against me, so I had to pull for LSU. Because I didn't want to come in here and y'all have 10,000 people in here for her to get her 500th, because I know how special it was when I got mine. But you've got a damn good coach."
Pingeton has a chance for her 500th career win as a head coach today as Missouri (17-7, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) hosts the Commodores (6-16, 1-8) at 3 p.m. at Mizzou Arena. She got her 150th win as the Tigers' coach Nov. 19 in a 59-36 win against SIU-Edwardsville.
Blair is also the only coach ahead of Pingeton in active wins as an SEC coach, with 783. Pingeton's career record of 499-272 is nearly a 65 percent win rate, and her record of 164-115 (.588) in nine seasons at Missouri is the second-best in program history to Joann Rutherford's .617 mark.
None of that was on Pingeton's mind after Thursday's game.
"We don't even need to be talking about that," she said. "This is all about this team, it's about the front of the jersey. Vandy is a good team, their record is very deceiving and they've been in a lot of games. Those kids play hard, so this is not going to be an easy task for us. But no, it's the next game up and we'll just go battle together for the front of the jersey."
The issue for the Commodores this season has been defense and rebounding, compounded by a series of injuries. Chelsie Hall and Brinae Alexander have both missed time this season with knee injuries, and Vanderbilt has had seven different players start at least seven games. Mariella Fasoula, a 6-foot-5 forward, and 5-8 guard Cierra Walker are the only two players to start all 22 games for the Commodores and also lead the team in scoring, averaging 16.2 and 11 points per game, respectively.
Missouri's guards did a good job helping down on A&M forward Ciera Johnson, who is a similar height and offensive talent. Vandy is an inside-out team in a similar vein to the Tigers, but don't have the same dangerous 3-point attack.
Vanderbilt is allowing 69 points per game and brings down 31.6 rebounds per game, both the worst mark in the conference. Missouri is third in scoring defense (56.7 points per game), but averages 32.2 rebounds per game and both teams score about 65 points per game on offense, so today's matchup is closer than it looks.
The key for the Tigers in this game will be shot selection. Missouri has taken and made almost twice as many 3-pointers this season as the Commodores, who have just one player, Walker, shooting better than 30 percent from deep. The Tigers lead the SEC in made 3s, and in conference play are second to Mississippi State in field goal percentage.