The Missouri State Lady Bears and head coach Amaka “Mox” Agugua-Hamilton have been open about their team goals this season.
One of the big goals heading into the year was getting off to a fast start in nonconference play.
The Lady Bears went 10-2 in nonconference play with their only losses coming against No. 6 Oregon and No. 16 Gonzaga.
Another team goal is to go undefeated at JQH Arena this season.
Mission accomplished so far.
Missouri State is off to a perfect 8-0 start at home.
Perhaps the loftiest goal the Lady Bears have set is to host an NCAA Tournament game at JQH Arena and their resume suggests they have a strong chance of making that happen.
Missouri State has the No. 2 position in the ratings percentage index, which remains a key factor in determining seedings in the NCAA Tournament field.
“Rankings are a welcome and a good thing, but the RPI is bigger,” Mox said recently. “That’s what NCAA looks at when talking about bids and seeding. To be in a situation where we could possibly host for the first time ever would be amazing. We have to continue to do what we’re doing and not slip-up.”
While the team had its first slip-up after suffering a loss at Southern Illinois on Jan. 17, Missouri State is still projected to be a No. 6 seed playing No. 11 Purdue with No. 4 DePaul hosting in the Fort Wayne quadrant, according to ESPN’s women’s basketball bracketology expert Charlie Creme.
To host an NCAA Tournament game in Springfield during March Madness, the Lady Bears must at least get a No. 4 seed.
“If we could bring the first and second round of the NCAA Tournament to Springfield at JQH, that would be amazing,” Mox said. “I think our fans would show out. I think our players would be putting themselves in a position to make another run in postseason.
“That would be the ultimate goal.”
It should be noted that there's a chance Missouri State wouldn’t be able to host because the MSHSAA state basketball tournament runs on the same day at JQH on March 21.
“MSU administration is working with all parties involved for a solution should the Lady Bears earn the right to host NCAA Tournament games that weekend,” Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Ben Adamson said, the spokesman for the Lady Bears program.
However, Missouri State still has a lot of its schedule remaining before then and the Missouri Valley Conference has proven to be one of the toughests conferences in the nation this season. The conference is rated No. 7 by RPI.
The Lady Bears have yet to play Bradley, which has sole possession of first place in conference play. The Braves are 14-2 overall and 5-0 in the MVC with the No. 72 RPI. Missouri State also will have to play at Drake on Feb. 9, a team that was picked to win the MVC preseason.
Friday’s loss to SIU proved the Lady Bears would not be invincible in conference play, and Mox’s postgame comments reflected that.
“Obviously, it is very disappointing,” Mox said in her postgame radio interview. “Everyone is upset. No one wants to lose. We have a chance to do amazing things and make history. To drop a game like this is not what we needed, but the lesson we need to learn and we had to learn it through a loss, we have to mature.
“We have to gain some maturity and growth in the areas of competing no matter what the front of the jersey says. That has been a problem for us this year. It’s hard to learn those lessons when you keep winning.”
With the loss, AP voters showed no mercy to Missouri State. They fell out of the AP Top 25 on Jan. 20 and have the 26th most votes.
The Lady Bears fell five spots to No. 22 in the USA Today Women’s Coaches Poll on Jan 21.
Mox said Missouri State “skated by” with close wins over Santa Clara, Loyola and Valparaiso. The team's biggest problem is they don’t play their “best game if it’s not a big game,” Mox said.
The first-year coach said she isn’t demeaning any of those teams, but it all comes down to respecting every opponent.
“Coming into the (SIU) game, I thought we made strides in that area,” Mox said. “It seemed like we were ready and had energy. I think they thought the players weren’t as good as they were. We got punched, and we laid down.
“We had competitiveness at times, but I don’t appreciate how we are not respecting every team we are playing. We have to fix that problem, and we will.”