Mike Petersen has maintained throughout his first season at North Texas that the Mean Green is going to experience its growing pains.
UNT is loaded with new players and a few veterans shoved into expanded roles they have never handled before.
The Mean Green experienced another step in that growth process Tuesday night in a game against rival UT-Arlington.
It was far from the most pleasant one.
UNT looked nothing like the team that nearly knocked off 13th-ranked Oklahoma 12 days ago and fell in a tough, not to mention ill-timed, 59-50 loss to UTA at the Super Pit.
“The team that deserved to win won,” Petersen said. “It’s pretty simple. You can’t miss 17 layups, get outrebounded 57-42 and win a basketball game. I don’t care who you are playing or what level it is.
“That is the competitive maturity we have been talking about. We were not very mature.”
The most experienced and poised teams put opponents away when they have the chance. UNT (2-7) had that opportunity in a game it led by 10 in the second half only to see the game slip away.
Laila Suleiman scored 15 points to lead three UTA players who finished in double figures and hit a few key shots, including a key 3-pointer late on a night UNT struggled overall offensively.
UNT shot just 25.7 percent (18-for-70) from the floor. Sara Stanley led the Mean Green with 16 points and Loryn Goodwin added 12.
“It was a lack of focus,” Stanley said of UNT’s struggles offensively. “We have to do better next game.”
The surprising aspect of the loss for UNT was that it came against a regional rival in UTA (2-7) that had just one win on the season in its first outing since a solid performance against OU. The Mean Green took the Sooners to the wire before falling 71-68.
UNT is now facing three straight games on the road, including a two-game road swing to traditional Sun Belt powers Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky following a nonconference game at Tulane on Saturday.
“It’s frustrating,” Stanley said. “We should have brought the energy we had from Norman to this game. We needed to compete the way we competed against them.”
UNT did play well for a brief time early in the second half and had all the momentum on its side after seemingly recovering from a brutal first half offensively. UNT opened the second half on a 17-3 run.
Stanley scored 10 points for UNT during the surge that put the Mean Green up 38-28.
UNT turned up its defensive intensity early in the second half, which seemingly turned the game in the Mean Green’s favor.
“They couldn’t handle the pressure,” Goodwin said. “If we had started off that way and missed some chippies at the end, we would have still had the lead.”
UNT found itself in a dogfight instead after UTA answered with a 14-2 surge of its own.
Aron Garcia tied the game up at 45-45 at the 5:11 mark with a free throw.
UTA took control of the game with back-to-back baskets, including Suleiman jumper. The junior gave the Mavericks the room they needed to pull away when she hit a 3-pointer with 1:39 left to put UTA up 54-49.
UNT would get no closer the rest of the way, spoiling a comeback from what was a tough start.
The Mean Green trailed 25-21 at halftime after struggling offensively in the early going.
UNT shot just 21.9 percent (7-for-32) in the first half and managed just two free throws from Braylah Blakely in final 5:08.
UTA didn’t fare much better, but scored the final five points of the half and finished with a 31-23 edge in rebounds.
UNT looked a lot better for a while in the second half, but couldn’t maintain what it built just after halftime of a disappointing loss.
“The easiest thing to do is get jacked up to play a ranked team,” Petersen said. “That’s easy. You give the David and Goliath speech and go play. Mature teams play like that all the time. At this point we are not very mature. We will keep working at it.”
A loss to UTA was part of the process.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
UT-Arlington 59, North Texas 50
UTA (2-7) – Suleiman 4-8 5-6 15, Thorpe 1-6 0-0 2, Parker 4-7 0-0 9, Watkins 1-5 1-2 9, Garcia 0-3 2-4 2, Green 4-9 2-2 12, Williams 1-5 0-0 2, Walker 2-9 6-9 10, Nwanguma 2-5 0-0 4. Totals 19-57 16-23 59.
NORTH TEXAS (2-7) – Stanley 4-8 8-8 16, Hyder 4-13 0-3 8, McCoy 0-7 0-0 0, Dawkins 2-10 0-2 5, Nelson 1-5 0-0 2, Christian 1-5 1-2 3, Evans 0-0 0-0 0, Blakely 1-2 2-5 4, Tac 0-2 0-0 0, Goodwin 5-18 0-0 12. Totals 18-70 11-20 50.
Halftime – UTA 25-21. 3-point goals – UTA 5-13 (Suleiman 2-5, Parker 1-2, Watkins 0-3, Green 2-3), UNT 3-25 (Hyder 0-3, McCoy 0-6, Dawkins 1-4, Nelson 0-1, Christian 0-2, Goodwin 2-9). Fouled out – none. Rebounds – UTA 57 (Walker 15), UNT 42 (Hyder 10). Assists – UTA 10 (Garcia 4), UNT 8 (Dawkins 4). Total fouls – UTA 17, UNT 19. A – 452.