Columbia, Mo. Missouri, picked in the preseason to finish 10th in the Big 12 Conference, is out to prove its detractors wrong.
Beating the defending national champions, as the Tigers did with a 64-61 victory over No. 4 Baylor in their conference opener, goes a long way toward making their case.
"We kept our poise, which shows were a lot more mature than last year," said senior guard Latoya Bond, who scored 21 points against the Bears and sealed the victory with a game-ending steal.
"I think if this were the same point last year, we wouldn't have came together," said Bond, who played all 40 minutes Wednesday and leads the team with an 18-point scoring average. "But we learned our lessons from last year, and we want to do big things this year."
Missouri (11-2), which snapped the Bears' 30-game winning streak, has won 10 straight.
But if a national ranking eludes the Tigers, coach Cindy Stein said, that won't discourage them.
"If everyone wants to believe the polls, which have only been correct a couple times, so be it," Stein said. "I can promise our fans that the Missouri women's basketball team will be very competitive in our league and will be an exciting team to watch. You don't want to miss out watching us this year. That, I can promise."
The win over Baylor is likely to raise fans' expectations beyond mere excitement.
"It says we'll compete. That's the big thing," Stein said. "Like I told the kids before and after the game, this isn't a make or break game for us. We've got to keep things in perspective. We've got 15 conference games left, and we've got to make sure we play at this kind of intensity level for all of those games."
Beating the defending national champions also means that future opponents aren't likely to overlook the Tigers.
"When you defeat the No. 4 team in the country, you all of a sudden have become a target yourself - and that's OK," Stein said. "Any coach would prefer being a target versus chasing one."