Life doesn’t look like it will get any easier anytime soon for the North Texas women’s basketball team.
Coach Mike Petersen has been pleased with the way the Mean Green has played of late. It’s just that UNT has been playing the cream of Conference USA while its roster has continued to be decimated by injuries.
The next challenge will come tonight when the Mean Green will play host to C-USA power UTEP knowing that two of its top players who have been battling injuries won’t be back the rest of the year.
Sophomore forward Acheil Tac will have surgery on a torn meniscus in her knee today and is out for the rest of the season.
UNT did receive some good news when the MRI on freshman point guard Candice Adams came back. Adams only has a sprained knee and will not need surgery. The bad news is that the injury is expected to keep her out a month, essentially ending her season.
UNT didn’t have Tac or Adams for its game against East Carolina last week and still managed to hang in before falling 56-49.
“We are playing well,” Petersen said. “The problem is we are not quite getting over the hump against really good teams. The jump in women’s basketball [from the Sun Belt] has been huge.”
Petersen said that C-USA is easily the best women’s basketball conference outside of those with football programs competing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, schools that tend to have the largest and best-funded programs.
ECU (21-3, 9-2) and UTEP (20-4, 9-2) are among the elite teams in C-USA.
UNT (10-14, 4-7) is looking at its game against the Miners as another opportunity at a milestone win.
“It’s another opportunity for us to knock someone at the top off,” UNT guard Laura McCoy said. “We have proven that we can play with anyone in the league. We should be ready to go.”
UNT will look to its bench players in an effort to cover for the loss of Tac while asking McCoy and its veteran guards to play more minutes the rest of the season to cover for Adams.
Tac averages 8.3 points and 7.0 rebounds a game, while Adams averages 6.2 points a game and leads the Mean Green with 47 assists.
UNT turned to redshirt freshman Eboniey Jeter in its game against ECU and saw her respond with six points and six rebounds in 19 minutes.
“Jeter played great at East Carolina and is playing well in practice,” Petersen said. “We have talked. It wasn’t that she wasn’t playing well, she was just behind Tac and Alexis.”
UNT aiming for bye
UNT will head to Florida this week aiming to make a late run at a bye in the Conference USA tournament.
The Mean Green will face Florida International on Thursday before taking on Florida Atlantic on Saturday. UNT (12-13, 3-8) heads into the trip in a tie for 13th place in the 16-team C-USA standings, but isn’t yet out of the hunt for a bye.
The top four teams in the conference standings at the end of the season will receive a double bye in the tournament, while the next five teams will receive a first-round bye.
That setup makes finishing among the top nine teams in the league imperative.
UNT is three games out of the position to earn a first-round bye.
“This is a big trip because if we can take care of this week and win two games, we can still get a bye,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “Everyone is bunched up at the middle. We can still get there despite what we have been through. Tulsa is the only game we have been out of.”
UNT has lost several tight games in C-USA play, including a two-point loss to Charlotte and a five-point loss to Rice.
The Mean Green had lost five straight before breaking out of its slide with a 53-51 win over East Carolina last week. That win gave UNT a much-needed shot of confidence heading into its trip to Florida.
“This is an important trip for us,” UNT guard Alzee Williams said. “We won our last one and are trying to keep it going and get these two wins.”
Foster earns league honor
UNT senior Brooke Foster was named the Conference USA Player of the Week for her performance in the Lovelace Invitational last weekend.
Foster hit .588 in the tournament and crushed a three-run home run in the Mean Green’s win over Northern Iowa in the sixth inning to help UNT to a 7-6 win.
UNT has now won six straight, thanks partly to Foster, who is hitting .441 and has scored 11 runs on the season.
The Mean Green will continue its season this weekend when it plays host to the Texas Shootout. Texas State, Abilene Christian, Prairie View A&M and Stephen F. Austin round out the field.
UNT will open the tournament with games against TSU and ACU at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively, on Thursday.
Signing class announced
Head coach John Hedlund announced this week that he has signed a class of nine players.
UNT added midfielders Libby Murphy of McKinney Boyd and Kelci Slaughter of Granbury; forwards Cat Sebazco of Keller Timber Creek and Chelsei Soto of Lewisville; defenders Hailey Hadden of Frisco Liberty, Tori Phillips of the Dallas Home School Athletic Association, Bryson Thomas of L.D. Bell and Rebecca Gleason of Lucas Lovejoy; and goalkeeper Dani Mayfield.
UNT advanced to the Conference USA tournament final this past season in its first year in the league and returns the league’s Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year in Rachel Holden in addition to six other starters.
“Losing a strong group of seniors that won multiple championships throughout their careers is never easy to replace, but I do feel with this class coming in we have several who can make an immediate impact this coming fall — with a few having the potential to start their freshman year,” Hedlund said in a prepared statement. “We will be young but very talented.”
UNT finished 14-7-1 in 2013, the Mean Green’s 19th straight winning season.
Bardabush returns in win
Kseniya Bardabush returned to UNT’s singles lineup and helped the Mean Green knock off Miami of Ohio in its home opener on Saturday.
Bardabush swept Christiana Raymond 6-4, 6-0 at No. 1 singles, helping UNT roll to a 4-1 win. The senior had been battling an ankle injury.
UNT is ranked No. 69 in this week’s ITA poll and will continue its season with a pair of matches at Tulsa. UNT will take on the Golden Hurricane on Friday before facing Kansas State on Saturday.
Track and field
UNT wins events at meets
Charlotte Wilson won the 3,000-meter run at the Texas Tech Open on Friday, and Jo Adams broke the school record in the mile on Saturday at the Iowa State Classic to highlight the Mean Green’s last tuneup for the C-USA indoor championships.
Adams posted a time of 4:38.83, knocking 11 seconds off the school record she set last year.
Wilson posted a time of 10:04.45.
UNT will compete in the C-USA championships beginning Feb. 28.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.