North Texas head coach Mike Petersen couldn’t have been happier in the wake of a devastating loss to Oklahoma on Dec. 6 — at least not when it came to the way his team responded.
The Mean Green had every reason to be down after No. 13 OU shot 35 of their whopping 40 free throws in the final 17 minutes and 50 seconds of a 71-68 win over UNT, which led by nine early in the second half.
“Our players had it perfect,” Petersen said. “They were unbelievably disappointed that they lost and still had an understanding of how well they played. That’s about perfect.”
That attitude gives Petersen confidence the Mean Green will continue improving while facing what had been a brutal early season slate, one that will soften up a bit tonight in a home game tonight against rival Texas-Arlington.
The Mean Green will face the Mavericks at 7 p.m. at the Super Pit in a showdown of teams looking for a key win early in the season.
UNT is 2-6 after playing SMU, Alabama, New Mexico and Arizona, putting the Mean Green a step ahead of UTA, which is 1-6 on the year.
UNT isn’t where it wants to be, but is still 1-0 in Sun Belt Conference play and feels like it is getting closer to playing at its best at an important time of the season.
The Mean Green’s game against the Mavericks is the first of two this week before it returns to Sun Belt play with a tough road trip to conference power Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky.
UNT will face Tulane on Saturday in the first of three straight road games.
“We want to get as many wins as we can before we get back into conference and get a little something going,” UNT guard Hannah Christian said. “We are getting better. Every game we seem like we progress a little more.”
The tough part thus far for UNT is that all that progress hasn’t resulted in wins. The Mean Green lost in triple overtime at Alabama and lost by four to both SMU and Arizona.
UNT did pick up a vital win over Louisiana-Lafayette in its Sun Belt opener but saw a few opportunities for a signature win slip away.
The way Petersen sees it, UNT is four possessions away from being 6-2.
The Mean Green hasn’t lost confidence, despite a series of tough losses.
“It has been really interesting with this group because I think we have played well, but we are still 2-6,” Petersen said. “To help them still have confidence has been an interesting process. We are not happy with our record, but our players feel like we continue to get better and that we have competed well against a really difficult schedule.”
That was especially true in UNT’s game against OU.
The Mean Green had the Sooners on the ropes, thanks to big outings from Alexis Hyder (15 points, 12 rebounds), Loryn Goodwin (14 points) and Christian (13 points).
OU escaped, despite making only three field goals in the last 12 minutes.
“The amount of phone calls I got was amazing,” Petersen said. “People were very complementary of how we played. My phone on the way home blew up. People were proud of how we played.”
UNT can show that it learned from the experience tonight against UTA, which has dropped three straight since beating Houston Baptist for its only win of the season Nov. 27.
Junior guard Malaika Green is averaging 9.0 points a game to lead UTA.
Hyder (12.3 points a game) and sophomore guard BreAnna Dawkins (12.0) are both averaging double figures for UNT, which Petersen believes is improving while dealing with some tough circumstances.
“It’s absolutely encouraging the way we are handling it,” Petersen said. “It sure beats the alternative, which is to get down and start feeling sorry for yourself because when you do that, you stop learning.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com .