North Texas didn’t spent a lot of time at the 3-point line last week in a slump-busting win over Florida International — at least not when it came time to hoist a shot.
UNT took a season-low four shots from behind the arc against the Golden Panthers. That could turn out to be a winning formula for UNT, which has struggled from long range all season.
UNT hit two of the four 3-pointers it attempted and won 77-67 to snap a five-game losing streak. Jordan Williams hit one of two attempts. Tony Mitchell hit his only attempt and Roger Franklin missed his.
“I don’t mind Jordan shooting the 3, but 10 a game is good for this group,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “We are still at the bottom of the nation in 3-point percentage.”
UNT was tied for 337th out of 347 teams in 3-point field goal percentage at 27.1 percent heading into Tuesday night’s games and will still be near the bottom of the statistics Thursday when it visits Louisiana-Monroe.
The Mean Green has missed shooting guard Brandan Walton, who was lost for the season with a broken foot he suffered in a season-opening loss to Lehigh. Walton shot 36.7 percent from 3-point range last season.
Benford has emphasized getting the ball inside ever since he took over the program in the offseason. He stressed that strategy even more last week after UNT went 4 for 17 from beyond the arc in a 70-59 loss to Western Kentucky.
UNT responded by scoring 30 points in the paint against FIU. The Mean Green also drew foul after foul and went 27 for 32 from the free-throw line.
“We worked on getting the ball in the paint all week,” Benford said. “We preached that when I was at Marquette. We were more consistent in doing that.”
Franklin was the player UNT got the ball to more often than not on a night when Mitchell got into early foul trouble. Franklin finished with 21 points and hit all 11 of his free throws.
“They were in the zone,” UNT point guard P.J. Hardwick said. “Coach has been preaching about getting Roger the ball in the middle of the zone. That is what we did.”
Christian’s return lifts UNT
Junior guard Hannah Christian has been back in UNT’s lineup for four games following a four-game absence due to concussion-like systems and gradually has returned to the form that made her a key player off the bench this season.
Christian has played between eight and 19 minutes off the bench in each game since her return, taking pressure off starting point guard Laura McCoy and giving the Mean Green another option on the perimeter.
Christian is expected to play a key role again Thursday when UNT looks to break a two-game losing streak in a game at ULM.
“Getting Hannah back has helped us,” UNT coach Mike Petersen said. “She is another ball handler, a glue player, a great encourager, very organized and can play multiple positions. That gives us flexibility on the perimeter. When she is gone, McCoy has to play all game. That is not healthy. You can’t play hard if you have to play the whole game. Sometimes you get going and play the whole game and not even know it. When you know going in to a game that you have to play the whole 40 minutes, that is a really tough.”
McCoy played 40 minutes in two games and 39 minutes in another while Christian was out.
“It has helped to get Hannah back,” McCoy said. “It gives us an extra person in the rotation. We get longer breaks and she comes in and does good things for us. She is so positive and brings a lot of energy.”
Blakely nearly full strength
Petersen is expecting forward Braylah Blakely to be close to full strength Thursday.
Blakely strained her quadriceps Jan. 24 and missed four games before returning to play seven minutes in a loss to Florida International on Saturday.
“Braylah being back will help us,” Petersen said. “She was kind of ginger on that leg [Saturday]. She is full-speed now.”
Blakely is averaging 3.4 points and 3.0 rebounds a game.
UNT gets off to solid start
UNT advanced to the final of the Texas tournament over the weekend, going 3-2 to open the season.
UNT beat Memphis twice and defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Mean Green’s only losses came against No. 7 Texas, which beat UNT 9-1 on the first day and 5-4 in the final.
Jordan Terry’s RBI single in the first inning helped UNT jump out to a 2-0 lead in the final before Texas rallied.
“I was really pleased, especially with as many freshmen as we started,” UNT coach T.J. Hubbard said. “The upperclassmen have done a good job of integrating them and making them feel comfortable. It was a lot quicker transition process than I expected. I thought we would take our lumps early and learn. We made a few mistakes, but they were minimal.”
UNT came out of the weekend with five players hitting at least .300, including Terry. The sophomore third baseman hit .400, scored four runs and posted five RBIs, a performance that earned her Player of the Week honors from the Sun Belt Conference.
Lesley Hirsch posted a team-high five hits and is hitting .333.
“Hirsch set the tone for us early in a lot of those games,” Hubbard said. “That is what we are hoping to get from her. We hope that we can get a spark from her. When you can score in the first inning or at least apply pressure, you are usually going to have a good game.”
Taylor Schoblocher hit .333, while fellow freshman Karly Williams hit .300.
“It was huge for our confidence, especially for those freshmen who are trying to find their place in the lineup and figure out what their role is,” Hubbard said of the tournament.
UNT will look to build on that confidence when it hosts the Lovelace Invitational on Friday and Saturday. Oklahoma State, Nebraska-Omaha, Iowa and Dayton also will be in the field.
UNT on TV twice in Austin
Both of UNT’s games against Texas were broadcast on the Longhorn Network.
“I got a lot of e-mails from people who saw us play,” Hubbard said. “It was good exposure, especially since we played so well on Sunday. It was quality exposure, not just being on TV. A lot of the players we are looking at have said they saw us.”
UNT returns to action
UNT will play its first matches in nearly two weeks it travels to Mobile, Ala., to face Florida International and South Alabama on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
No. 56 UNT enters the weekend on a three-match winning streak that began with a win over No. 41 Minnesota on Jan. 27.
Swimming and diving
Johnson receives honor
UNT’s Catherine Johnson was named the Sun Belt Diver of the Week after winning the 1-meter dive in a meet at TCU.
Johnson posted a score of 268.05 and has won the award six times in her career.
UNT finishes second
UNT finished second by a stroke in the UTSA/Oak Hills Invitational, its first tournament of the spring season.
UNT, which is ranked 36th, lost to Oklahoma, which edged the Mean Green 863-862.
UNT’s Rodolfo Cazaubon finished second at 5 under par.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .