North Texas had a ton of momentum heading into its game against Western Kentucky on Thursday and an opportunity to move into a tie for first place in the Sun Belt Conference West Division.
The way UNT played with so much at stake left coach Mike Petersen and his players baffled.
UNT got off to a quick start before falling apart in a 76-62 loss to the Hilltoppers at the Super Pit.
The Mean Green was up seven early before WKU blew past, grabbing a 15-point lead at halftime and a 20-point edge midway through the second half.
“It was our worst effort of the year, and that is not to take anything away from Western Kentucky,” Petersen said. “They played very hard. I thought we got outworked. I thought we got outplayed. I thought we got outcoached. We got taken out behind the woodshed.
“It was very surprising.”
The most surprising aspect of the Mean Green’s performance was that it came just days after one of its biggest wins of the year.
UNT (9-14, 10-3 Sun Belt) snapped Arkansas State’s seven-game winning streak and pulled to within a game of the West Division leader with a 64-62 win Saturday in Jonesboro, Ark.
The perfect situation to catch ASU seemed to unfold for UNT when Middle Tennessee hammered the Red Wolves 93-49 before the Mean Green tipped off against the Hilltoppers.
UNT guard Laura McCoy said the Mean Green knew before the game that ASU had lost.
The Mean Green didn’t play well in any aspect of the game, but Petersen and his players were particularly disappointed with the way they played defensively.
WKU guard Alexis Govan scored 40 points in the Hilltoppers’ 82-80 win over UNT in December. The Mean Green held Govan to 17 points in the rematch, but WKU (17-5, 10-3) had little problem filling the void.
Bianca McGee led the Hilltoppers with 21 points, while Chastity Gooch added 20.
WKU shot 51.6 percent (32-for-62) from the field.
“We didn’t put pressure on anyone or do anything,” UNT guard Loryn Goodwin said. “When they get wide-open looks, of course they are going to knock them down.”
UNT didn’t get those same open looks. Freshman forward Alexis Hyder scored a career-high 23 points in the Mean Green’s win over ASU and came into the night averaging 13.5 points per game, but she managed just seven against WKU.
Goodwin and BreAnna Dawkins scored 16 points apiece to lead UNT.
“We were disoriented a lot of the time on offense,” McCoy said. “We didn’t know what plays we were running and had to chuck up shots at the end of the shot clock. It’s hard to score when you are not executing your plays.”
UNT executed early. McCoy and Goodwin hit early 3-pointers to spark UNT, which ran out to a 14-7 lead before WKU stormed back.
Govan hit back-to-back layups before McGee hit the first of four first-half treys to tie the game at 16.
The Hilltoppers took their first lead when Chastity Gooch converted a three-point play to put WKU up 21-18.
UNT hit just two shots from the floor in the final 11:24 of the first half as WKU gradually pulled away to take a 44-29 lead into the break.
“I didn’t think we responded at all,” Petersen said. “We got punched in the nose, got our eyes watered a little bit and didn’t respond.”
Petersen saw problems with the way UNT played in several aspects but was especially disappointed in the fact that the Mean Green got away from what made it successful while winning its last two games.
“Defensively, our effort level was not close to good enough,” Petersen said. “Offensively, we tried to fix team problems with individual play. For some of the game, I couldn’t tell you what we ran, and I usually have a good idea.”
UNT didn’t have any idea of why it didn’t come out with more of a sense of urgency when it had a chance to climb to the top of the division.
“It’s disappointing,” Petersen said. “That game was a great opportunity to get back into first place. Our division didn’t get decided tonight, but we have given up some opportunities to move into better position.”
WESTERN KENTUCKY 76, UNT 62
WESTERN KENTUCKY (17-5, 10-3) — Gooch 9-18 2-6 20, McClain 3-5 0-0 6, Jones 1-4 0-1 2, Govan 8-12 1-2 17, McGee 8-15 0-0 21, Means 2-5 2-2 6, Wright 1-1 2-2 4, Johnson 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 32-62 7-13 76.
NORTH TEXAS (9-14 , 8-6) — Stanley 2-2 4-4 8, Hyder 1-6 5-8 7, McCoy 3-9 0-0 9, Dawkins 4-12 8-8 16, Goodwin 6-18 0-0 16, Christian 0-1 0-0 0, Evans 2-3 0-0 4, Tac 0-1 0-0 0, Nelson 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 19-54 17-20 62.
Halftime — WKU 44-29. Three-point goals — WKU 5-15 (Jones 0-3, Govan 0-1, McGee 5-10, Johnson 0-1), UNT 7-26 (Hyder 0-1, McCoy 3-8, Dawkins 0-4, Goodwin 4-12, Nelson 0-1). Fouled out — none. Rebounds — WKU 39 (Gooch 12), UNT 31 (Hyder 8). Assists — WKU 18 (Means 7), UNT 11 (Hyder 6). Total fouls — WKU 15, UNT 13. A — 847.