North Texas could be without Hannah Christian for its game against Middle Tennessee on Thursday, and possibly a lot longer, in one of the more unusual injury situations head coach Mike Petersen has encountered in recent years.
Christian, a key backup guard, has not played since UNT’s win over South Alabama on Jan. 12 and has been suffering concussion-like symptoms, despite the fact that no one can remember her taking a hit that would have caused a concussion.
“I do not know if Hannah will be back,” Petersen said. “When she is cleared, she will play. The doctors say that she is fine other than the symptoms. It’s a matter of her getting a clear head, and when she gets a clear head, she will be fine.”
Christian has started three games, is averaging 4.7 points a game and ranks third on the team with 29 assists. The Weatherford College product has served a vital role throughout the season as a backup point guard behind Laura McCoy.
McCoy has played all 40 minutes of each of UNT’s last two games with Christian unavailable and likely will have to play extended minutes until the Mean Green is back at full strength.
The tough aspect of the situation for UNT is that no one knows when Christian will be ready or what happened to her in the first place.
“That is the hard part — nobody remembers her getting injured,” Petersen said. “She got bumped in the Arkansas-Little Rock game [Jan. 9] and remembers that. She came back and finished that game, which was on a Wednesday. She practiced on Thursday and Friday and played her brains out on Saturday against South Alabama. On Monday she started feeling woozy. It’s a little confusing.”
It’s also ill-timed when it comes to UNT’s schedule. MTSU cranks up the pressure on opponents perhaps more than any other team in the Sun Belt Conference.
Christian played 20 minutes in UNT’s loss at MTSU earlier this season. Icelyn Elie hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds to give the Blue Raiders a 66-64 win.
Christian played a role in helping UNT challenging MTSU. The junior finished with three assists and just three turnovers.
MTSU could look to press McCoy even more if she is forced to handle the ball for much of the game without a break.
“No one wants to play more than Hannah,” Petersen said. “What I have told her is to be really honest with the medical staff and not try to come back until she’s ready.”
UNT to face top defensive team in conference
UNT will face one of its biggest challenges of the Sun Belt season Thursday — at least when it comes to finding a way to score — in its game against MTSU.
The Blue Raiders lead the Sun Belt in scoring defense (58.3 points per game) and field goal percentage defense (40.3 percent), a performance that is typical for MTSU during the tenure of coach Kermit Davis.
“The challenge when you play a coach Davis team is, can you score?” UNT coach Tony Benford said.
UNT knows first-hand how tough it can be to get going against the Blue Raiders, who shut the Mean Green down in a 75-57 win Dec. 31 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. UNT scored just 24 points in the first half and never recovered.
The Blue Raiders have held four of their last five opponents under 60 points and pummeled Arkansas-Little Rock 82-50 last week.
“They can wear you down,” Benford said. “They are going to get out and defend you. They wore down Little Rock defensively. That is the way they play.”
MTSU likely will take the same approach against UNT, which will be shorthanded. UNT had just seven scholarship players available Saturday when the Mean Green gutted out a win at Florida Atlantic.
UNT likely will have a few more players available against MTSU, depending on the way they progress in practice this week. Backup guard Clarke Overlander is expected to return in the next few days, while Justin Patton is dealing with a knee injury that will hamper him the rest of the season.
UNT will have to lean heavily on a few key players even if Overlander and Patton play, including point guard P.J. Hardwick. The freshman played all 45 minutes of the Mean Green’s overtime win over FAU.
With starting point guard Chris Jones out for the year with a broken foot, Hardwick will be leaned on heavily again. Hardwick turned the ball over just twice while posting five assists in UNT’s win over FAU.
UNT shows improvement with defensive play
There were a number of reasons Benford was pleased with his team’s performance in its win over FAU.
Outside of the bottom line of just needing a win, the way the Mean Green played defensively was at the top of the list.
UNT held FAU to 37.5 percent shooting (21-for-56) from the field. Greg Gantt came into the game leading the Sun Belt in scoring with an average of 22.5 points a game and nearly reached his average by posting a team-high 22 against the Mean Green.
UNT limited the rest of FAU’s key offensive players. Stefan Moody finished with 12 points, just off his average of 14.4 points a game, but was 5-for-12 from the field.
“Defensively we were really good,” Benford said. “I looked at the tape and said, ‘Man, we really defended those guys.’ We did a good job taking away a couple of their 3-point shooters. Gantt is going to make shots, but we made him make tough shots. It was a great defensive effort.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .