When Mike Petersen took over at North Texas following last season, he promised to employ an up-and-down style that could make the Mean Green one of the higher-scoring teams in the Sun Belt Conference.
Lately, it’s been the defensive end of the floor where UNT has quietly excelled.
The Mean Green matched its season best when it comes to points allowed in a half for the second straight game and cruised to a 67-47 win over South Alabama on Saturday at the Super Pit.
The win was UNT’s fourth straight, a milestone the program hasn’t seen in years.
UNT (6-10, 5-2 Sun Belt) last won four straight games in the 2007-08 season and had not won four straight conference games since the 2001-02 campaign, when the Mean Green advanced to the WNIT — its last postseason appearance.
“I told the team after the game that I have been doing this a really long time and I thought about it really hard — I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team play better for 32 consecutive minutes,” Petersen said. “The first 32 minutes of that game we played at a very, very high level offensively, defensively and our intensity was good. You would love to bottle that.”
That was especially true on the defensive end as UNT jumped out to a 35-17 lead at halftime.
USA (10-7, 3-5) shot just 19.4 percent (6-for-31) from the floor in the first half and made just two of its 17 3-point attempts.
UNT held Arkansas-Little Rock to 17 points in the first half of its last game, the same total it limited Arizona to in the opening period of a game the Wildcats came back to win Nov. 28.
UNT gradually has gone to a series of zone defenses it switches in and out of throughout games.
“People are really struggling against the trap,” UNT guard Laura McCoy said. “We press the whole game. It wears on people. We are feeling more comfortable with what we are doing defensively.”
UNT began the season playing more man-to-man defense before finding a comfort with its zones.
USA never got on track against UNT and shot just 25.4 percent (16-for-63) from the floor on the night.
“We have a strong belief in what we are doing defensively,” Petersen said. “That’s half of it. It’s also really different than anything anyone else in our league does. Most of the teams in this league are man-to-man teams. We are like Air Force and Navy in college football. You guard West Coast, West Coast, West Coast, then all of a sudden wishbone. What’s that? We are kind of a wishbone team right now.”
UNT had more than enough firepower to run past the stifled USA.
BreAnna Dawkins led UNT with 16 points and McCoy added 15 to pace a group of five players who scored at least nine points each for the Mean Green.
“It’s about sharing the ball all the time and finding the open man,” Dawkins said.
Brianna Wright scored 13 points and was the only USA player to finish in double figures.
UNT opened the game with a 9-0 run and was up 35-17 at halftime after McCoy hit a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.
“We have really focused on starts and winning the first four minutes,” Petersen said. “We talk about each possession being equally important.”
UNT was off and running after its opening surge and created 22 points off 18 USA turnovers and 10 fastbreak points.
“The press leading to offense is a huge part of our game plan and an advantage we have,” McCoy said. “Those are easy points. We want to get as many of them as we can.”
UNT is getting more of them than ever before thanks to a defense that has helped fuel the Mean Green’s four-game winning streak.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
UNT 67, South Alabama 47
SOUTH ALABAMA (10-7, 3-5) — Robertson 0-1 1-2 1, Cherizol 1-7 0-0 2, Reynolds 0-4 0-0 0, Nixon 3-11 2-4 9, El 2-10 4-4 8, Sophus 0-2 0-0 0, Dunn 2-7 2-4 7, Webb 1-4 0-0 2, Wright 5-8 3-4 13, Hall 1-5 0-0 3, Sanders 1-4 0-0 2.Totals 16-63 11-16 47.
NORTH TEXAS (6-10, 5-2) — Stanley 4-7 1-1 9, Hyder 3-10 2-2 9, McCoy 6-8 2-3 15, Dawkins 6-14 1-1 16, Goodwin 3-8 0-0 9, Christian 1-3 2-2 5, Evans 0-0 0-0 0, Blakely 0-2 0-0 0, Tac 1-2 0-0 2, Nelson 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 25-58 8-9 67.
Halftime — UNT 35-17. 3-point goals — USA 4-28 (Cherizol 0-1, Reynolds 0-4, Nixon 2-4, El 0-5, Dunn 1-5, Webb 0-2, Hal 1-5, Sanders 0-2), UNT 9-15 (Hyder 1-3, McCoy 1-2, Dawkins 3-4, Goodwin 3-4, Christian 1-1, Nelson 0-1). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — USA 42 (Cherizol 9), UNT 41 (Hyder 9). Assists — USA 6 (El 3), UNT 12 (Hyder 3). Total fouls — USA 10, UNT 19. A — 1,073.