After coming close so many times, North Texas got just what it needed heading into a rare chance to play a major-conference opponent at home today.
The Mean Green finally won a game, the first of the Mike Petersen era.
Saturday’s dramatic 72-71 double-overtime win over St. Bonaventure looms large for UNT, which suddenly is feeling a lot better about how it has fared during a brutal early-season stretch heading into a showdown with Arizona.
A game against the Wildcats will offer UNT a rare chance to knock off a major-conference opponent at home and build on the confidence it established with its first win. UNT has played host to a Pac-12 school only one other time, back in 1988 when the Mean Green beat Washington State.
“It felt so good,” UNT guard Laura McCoy said of the Mean Green’s first victory. “It was such a relief. A win was what we needed to boost everyone’s morale and get us going again. It’s hard losing.”
What was particularly difficult for UNT was that it had come so close to posting a key win several times this season.
UNT lost by four at SMU, where it hasn’t won since 1989, took Alabama to triple overtime and was within one point twice in the final three minutes of a season-opening loss to Texas State.
UNT’s only lopsided loss came at New Mexico, which hammered UNT 81-59 before the Mean Green bounced back for its first win.
“I don’t like being 1-4 and have never been 1-4, but given the difficulty of our schedule, the fact we have been on the road the whole month of November and who we have played and how we have battled, we can look at it and say that these experiences will help us be better in January and February,” Petersen said.
UNT is trying to keep in perspective that if it would have made a few key plays down the stretch of a few of its losses, it would have a much better record. Petersen said his team is three possessions away from being 4-1.
The three teams UNT has lost to have a combined record of 18-3, which had the Mean Green sitting at No. 30 in at least one RPI rating Monday.
What has Petersen particularly pleased is that UNT has continued to fight through a tough early slate.
“We are playing hard, and we don’t give in,” Petersen said. “We were down 19 against St. Bonaventure, were 0-4 and on the road. There were a lot of teams that would have ordered the postgame meal and gotten out of there. This group didn’t. We kept grinding, the coaching staff kept coaching, and we worked our way through it.”
The Mean Green was down 20-5 early but worked its way back into the game and survived when St. Bonaventure’s CeCe Dixon missed a potential game-winning jumper in the closing seconds.
UNT has leaned heavily on a group of newcomers. Sophomore guard BreAnna Dawkins is averaging 13.4 points per game in her first season playing for UNT after transferring from Wichita State, while freshman forward Alexis Hyder is adding 12.0 points and 7.6 rebounds a game.
The more those newcomers have played with veterans like McCoy, the better the Mean Green has played overall.
“Everyone is coming into their roles and understanding what [Petersen] wants,” McCoy said. “This is the first time a lot of us have played together. We are starting to figure each other out.”
Continuing that process against Arizona could be a challenge. The Wildcats are 4-2 and beat Texas Southern in their last outing.
Arizona guard Davellyn Whyte scored 20 points in a 69-62 win over UNT last year and is averaging 15.8 points a game this season.
“It’s an opportunity to beat a Pac-12 school at home and an opportunity to build on our last win,” Petersen said. “People keep really close track of how non-Power 6 teams do against Power 6 teams. This is one of those games and an opportunity for us to win one of those games.”
UNT feels a lot better about how it will handle that opportunity after its breakthrough win.
“It was positive,” Hyder said. “We had been losing so much. The positive feeling we came home with gave us a new outlook.”
McCoy named all-tourney
McCoy was named to the all-tournament team for her performance in the New Mexico tournament.
The junior guard scored 21 points, hit five 3-pointers and grabbed five rebounds while playing a team-high 72 minutes.
UNT adds ranked signee
UNT head coach Sujay Lama announced that he has signed Alexis Thoma to a national letter of intent.
Thoma is ranked No. 9 in Texas, 11th in the Gulf States and 122nd nationally in the class of 2013.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.