North Texas women’s coach Mike Petersen could sense something was amiss almost from the start of the Mean Green’s game at Troy last week.
UNT never quite got the pace of the game where it wanted, turned the ball over too many times and saw Troy cash in for an 86-69 win. That left the Mean Green looking for answers — and a way to get back on track — heading into a 7 p.m. game against Florida Atlantic today at the Super Pit.
UNT (10-16, 9-8 Sun Belt) has dropped three of its last four and seen its chances to win the conference’s West Division title take a big hit.
The Mean Green is two games behind Arkansas State (11-6) and Arkansas-Little Rock (10-6) in the loss column with three games left in the regular season.
UNT has some serious ground to make up if it wants to avoid a third-place finish in the West, largely because of a February funk that has become something of a baffling tradition.
UNT is 2-3 this month, which is a dramatic improvement over the last two years when the Mean Green went 1-6 and 0-5, respectively, in February.
“Coach always talks about how the last few years we have only won a couple of games in February,” UNT senior forward Sara Stanley said. “It’s a tough month for teams, but I feel confident about our next game. We had a really good practice [Monday].”
UNT turned its focus to taking care of the ball and executing against zone defenses this week. The Mean Green struggled on both fronts against Troy.
UNT turned the ball over 30 times against the Trojans and shot just 37.1 percent (13-for-35) from the floor in the first half, when Troy ran out to a 43-31 lead.
UNT made a run in the second half and cut its deficit to three, but it couldn’t complete the comeback.
“We kept trying to encourage from the sidelines and in timeouts to just play,” Petersen said. “Don’t worry about the zone. We never got to a comfort level. When you are in games like that, you have to create offense with your defense. We never did. We were always in the halfcourt five on five.”
UNT will look to bounce back today and avenge a 79-67 loss to FAU on Jan. 19. Freshman guard Loryn Goodwin led UNT with 25 points, while Alexis Hyder and BreAnna Dawkins added 19 and 16, respectively, in the teams’ first meeting.
That trio couldn’t help UNT slow down FAU and Chenise Miller, who led the Owls with 22 points and 14 rebounds.
UNT knows it will have to get back to playing at a high tempo and take care of the ball to have a chance to avenge that loss.
“Our pace was never right in that game,” Petersen said. “When our pace isn’t right, we are not nearly as good.”
Blakely sisters meet again
UNT forward Braylah Blakely will face off with her sister for a second time this season when the Mean Green takes on FAU.
Briah Blakely is a starting guard for the Owls.
Braylah Blakely scored four points and blocked four shots in the teams’ January meeting, while Briah Blakely finished with five points, four steals and three assists.
Jones could return soon
Chris Jones could be back as soon as next week, giving the sophomore guard time to adjust to being back in UNT’s lineup before the start of the Sun Belt tournament.
Jones has been out since breaking his foot in a loss to Western Kentucky on Dec. 29.
UNT will face Florida Atlantic on Thursday at the Super Pit.
“Chris may be back next week,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “We will see. If we can get him back, it changes things. We don’t have anyone right now who can make a play off the bounce for themselves or a teammate.
“He was leading the league in assists. That says it all right there.”
Jones is averaging 10.2 points and 5.0 assists per game. He has scored in double figures in seven games, including a 23-point outing in a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette and a 21-point game in a loss to St. Louis.
Benford encouraging Hardwick to be aggressive
Freshman point guard P.J. Hardwick has helped fill the void left when UNT lost Jones, handling the ball and getting the Mean Green into its halfcourt offense.
Benford is looking for Hardwick to take the next step and become more of an offensive threat.
The goal is one Hardwick has shown signs of reaching while scoring nine points in two of UNT’s last three games. Hardwick scored nine points in wins over Florida International and Troy. He has scored more than nine points just once, when he scored 14 in a win over South Alabama.
“P.J. is being more assertive,” Benford said. “He has to. He has to cut down on his turnovers and he has to make the 15-footer. We can’t play five-on-four. Any time he passes, his man goes and doubles Tony [Mitchell] right away. I have told him he has to shoot the ball.”
Hardwick is averaging 3.7 points per game on the season but has posted 5.7 points a game in UNT’s last 14 contests.
UNT to face UTSA today
UNT will visit future Conference USA rival Texas-San Antonio (4-4) today for a 5 p.m. doubleheader.
The Mean Green (4-5) is coming off a Saturday win over Dayton at the Lovelace Invitational that snapped a four-game losing streak.
UNT lost three games to major-conference schools, beginning with a 5-4 loss to Texas in the final of the UT tournament. The Mean Green then fell to Oklahoma State and Iowa in the Lovelace Invitational, with a loss to Nebraska-Omaha in between.
Brittany Simmons picked up the win against Dayton after allowing one hit in four innings of relief. Sophomore first baseman Danielle Hoff has started all nine games for UNT and is hitting .318.
UNT to host Arizona
UNT will have a chance to improve its national standing Saturday when the Mean Green hosts Arizona in a matchup of ranked teams.
UNT is No. 57 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings after extending its winning streak to five matches with a pair of wins against Sun Belt rivals.
Arizona is tied for 30th this week with St. Mary’s of California.
UNT beat FIU 5-2 over the weekend and came back to edge South Alabama 4-3 after losing the doubles point.
The Mean Green has not lost since dropping its Jan. 26 season opener to Texas A&M, which is ranked 10th this week. UNT beat Minnesota, which is now tied for 65th, the next day.
Track and field
Three win in tuneup for conference meet
Christina Taylor, Shahaf Bareni and Austin Yaeger won their events and Charleston Lewis broke his own school record in the weight throw over the weekend at the Sooner Invitational, UNT’s final tuneup for the Sun Belt indoor championships.
The conference meet will take place Saturday and Sunday at Arkansas State in Jonesboro.
Yaeger and Taylor won the 800-meter runs in times of 1:56.41 and 2:15.64, respectively.
Bareni won the high jump with a mark of 5-8 3/4.
Lewis finished fourth in the weight throw with a 58-0 1/4.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address email@example.com .