The worst is over for Mike Petersen and the North Texas women’s basketball team, at least when it comes to the schedule.
UNT visited Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky — a pair of teams expected to be among the best in the Sun Belt Conference — and lost to both in games that went down to the final possession.
The hope at UNT was that after the road trip, the Mean Green would have a chance to recover as the schedule becomes more favorable.
Tonight, UNT will look to break a five-game losing streak when it plays host to Troy at 7 p.m.
The game is the first in a two-game homestand during which the Mean Green (2-10, 1-2 Sun Belt) also will face Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.
Troy and ULM are a combined 5-19 and are both 0-3 in Sun Belt play. MTSU and WKU are a combined 18-7 and 6-1. The Hilltoppers are 4-0 in Sun Belt play.
“I told the players, the worm is going to turn,” Petersen said. “I don’t know when it’s going to turn, but it’s going to turn, and when it does, we need to make sure that we take advantage of it.”
That will be the challenge today for the Mean Green, which is still in the thick of the race in the Sun Belt’s West Division, where every team other than preseason favorite Arkansas-Little Rock has dropped at least two league games.
UNT is just a game behind the UALR Trojans (10-2, 3-1) in the loss column and will have a chance to keep pace by knocking off a struggling Troy team that is 3-9 on the season. The Troy Trojans have lost their three Sun Belt games.
The Mean Green looked capable of handling the teams at the bottom of the Sun Belt after taking two of the teams at the top of the league to the wire.
Icelyn Elie hit a 3-pointer in the final minute to help MTSU pull out a 66-64 win over the Mean Green. UNT was within one point three times in the final 2:13 of an 82-80 loss to WKU.
Freshman forward Alexis Hyder is averaging 12.7 points per game to lead three players in double figures for UNT. BreAnna Dawkins scored a career-high 22 points against the Hilltoppers and is adding 12.0 points a game, while Loryn Goodwin is averaging 10.0 points a night.
Those totals could go up in a game featuring two of the higher-scoring teams in the Sun Belt. Troy leads the conference with an average of 78.2 points per game, while UNT ranks fourth at 68.4 points a night.
Junior guard Brittney McCloud is averaging a team-best 13.1 points for Troy and first-year coach Chanda Rigby.
Rigby led Pensacola State College to the NJCAA Final Four twice before taking over at Troy.
Jones to see team doctors about injured foot today
UNT point guard Chris Jones will have his right foot examined by team doctors today.
Jones sprained his foot during the Mean Green’s loss to WKU on Saturday and did not play in UNT’s loss to MTSU on Monday.
The Mean Green returned to Denton on Tuesday. Today will be the first opportunity UNT will have to get Jones in to see team doctors, who were not available on New Year’s Day.
Jones scored 10 points to go along with five steals and four assists in 30 minutes against WKU before going down with the injury. He was helped off the floor and watched UNT’s game against MTSU from the bench with a walking boot on his leg.
Jones is averaging 5.0 assists a game, a total that ties him with Louisiana-Lafayette guard Elfrid Payton for tops in the Sun Belt.
Jones is averaging 10.2 points a game and is a vital part of UNT’s offense. Coach Tony Benford moved shooting guard Alzee Williams to the point guard spot to replace Jones and started Jordan Williams against MTSU.
UNT struggled without Jones running the team and shot only 18.5 percent (5 for 27) from the floor in the first half, when the Mean Green went 9:01 without a field goal.
“It’s like bringing in a new quarterback to run the team in football,” Benford said. “Alzee has done it before, but this is a new system for him. We will sit down with him, show him some different things and try to help him.”
UNT could find out today just how long it might have to go without Jones.
Riddle thankful for opportunity at UNT
Kent Riddle thought long and hard about leaving UNT to rejoin an old friend at Arkansas State.
Riddle spent two years on Dan McCarney’s staff as the Mean Green’s special teams and tight ends coach before agreeing Monday to become the assistant head coach at ASU under Bryan Harsin, whom he worked with at Boise State.
“The best aspect of it is this isn’t a situation where I am leaving a place where things are not going well,” Riddle said Monday night after he was announced as a new member of ASU’s staff. “North Texas will blow up and become a great success story under coach McCarney.”
Riddle helped lay the foundation for what he expects to be a turnaround story and was planning to stay until Harsin called and offered him a position that will advance his career.
Harsin and Riddle worked together at Boise State from 2001-05.
“I appreciate all that Kent has done for us,” McCarney said. “He’s a great coach and an even better person. Kent wants to be a head coach, and this gives him a chance to be an assistant head coach and move closer to that goal.”
Riddle said he appreciated the opportunity he was given by McCarney, another longtime friend, and UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal.
Riddle passed on other opportunities to leave the UNT staff, but couldn’t let a chance to be an assistant head coach go.
“I enjoyed my time at North Texas,” Riddle said. “With all the new things the school has going on, from the new stadium to moving to a new conference [Conference USA], North Texas has a great future.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org