The North Texas women’s basketball team has one last chance to break out of a late-season funk and can reach a milestone in program history in the process tonight.
UNT has lost five of its last six games heading into its 7 p.m. regular-season finale against Arkansas State at the Super Pit, a slide that ended the Mean Green’s hopes of capturing the Sun Belt Conference West Division title.
UNT (10-18, 9-10 SBC) still has a lot to play for, though, despite having fallen into a tie for sixth with Florida Atlantic in the 11-team overall Sun Belt standings, including winning 10 conference games. The Mean Green has won at least 10 games in conference play only four times in program history, the last time in the 2001-02 season.
The Mean Green can reach the 10-win mark while playing 20 conference games this season. The Sun Belt played a 16-game schedule the last two years, an 18-game slate from the 2006-07 season to the 2009-10 season and a 15-game slate from 2001-02 to 2005-06.
Even though UNT had a few more cracks at getting to 10 wins this year, the barrier is still a meaningful one.
“This is going to be big for us,” UNT head coach Mike Petersen said. “This gives us a chance to win 10 league games for the fifth time in school history and the first time in a decade. It wouldn’t be what we wanted, but it would be a good accomplishment.”
UNT will have to knock off an ASU team with a lot on the line to reach that goal. The Red Wolves are tied with rival Arkansas-Little Rock for the lead in the Sun Belt West Division at 12-6.
ASU will face UALR in its regular-season finale on Saturday.
The Red Wolves can assure themselves the opportunity to face the Trojans with at least a share of the Sun Belt West Division title on the line by beating UNT.
ASU enters its game against the Mean Green on a roll after hammering Louisiana-Monroe 77-58 and Troy 71-59 in its last two games behind Jalen O’Bannon and Jane Morrill.
Both O’Bannon and Morrill scored 20 points in ASU’s win over ULM and have scored in double figures in consecutive games.
UNT’s chances to break out of its late-season slide could rest on how it plays defensively against the Red Wolves. UNT allowed at least 72 points in five straight games before falling to South Alabama 65-61 in its last game.
“We need to play better defensively,” UNT guard Laura McCoy said. “People are scoring too easily against us right now. We need to play together and play hard. We have all the tools we need to win. We just have to execute, play hard and play defense. If we do that, we should be fine.”
One of UNT’s biggest problems in its last few games has been playing consistently. UNT led by 11 early against the Jaguars before falling behind by 16 in the second half.
The Mean Green came back but couldn’t climb out of the hole it dug early in the second half.
“Our response to mistakes is not good enough,” Petersen said. “When we don’t make a shot on offense, our energy goes down on defense. When we don’t make a stop on defense, our energy goes down on offense. Circumstances can’t affect your energy. Energy should be a constant.”
UNT aims to send senior Stanley out on high note
UNT will have only one senior making her final appearance at home with the Mean Green tonight in Sara Stanley.
The forward has started all but one of UNT’s games this season and is averaging 8.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Stanley, a former Wylie standout who transferred to UNT from McLennan Community College, is in her second season with the Mean Green.
Jones says ASU is statement game
Not much has gone right for UNT this season, from a rash of injuries to a string of tough losses that continued last week when the Mean Green saw its modest two-game winning streak end in a loss to South Alabama.
UNT point guard Chris Jones sees the Mean Green’s game against Arkansas State on Thursday as a chance for the team to get back on track, not to mention show that it can be a threat in the upcoming Sun Belt Conference tournament.
UNT (11-19, 6-13) is sitting in 10th place in the 11-team Sun Belt standings.
“This is a statement game,” Jones said. “Arkansas State is one of the top teams in the conference. Winning this game would show that we are not the same team we used to be. Some people doubt us. They don’t know that we are ready to make this run.”
Jones returned to UNT’s lineup in its game against USA and finished with six assists in his first game since breaking his foot in a loss to Western Kentucky on Dec. 29.
UNT is hoping his return will bolster its chances for making a late-season turnaround.
UNT plays key match today against rival TCU
UNT will carry a load of momentum into a key showdown with Dallas-Fort Worth rival TCU today at the Waranch Tennis Complex.
UNT knocked off No. 30 Arizona 4-3 at home over the weekend, when Agustina Valenzuela came through with a 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 over Susan McRann in the decisive match at No. 6 singles.
The win helped vault UNT to No. 47 in this week’s Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings. TCU enters today’s 2 p.m. match ranked No. 20.
“That win gave us a lot of confidence,” UNT coach Sujay Lama said. “The last two years I have seen a change in that it does not matter who is on the other side of the court. That is what I have been preaching. A win like that puts you on the national stage.”
UNT appeared as if it would coast to the win over Arizona when it needed just one win in the final two matches and was up in both.
The situation changed when Barbora Vykydalova lost the final two sets of her match and fell to Kim Stubbe 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 at No. 2 singles.
That loss left Valenzuela in a do-or-die situation.
“I didn’t know that it was the decisive point,” Valenzuela said. “When they told me later, it was cool. I knew I was the last match, but now they don’t stop [individual matches] when one team wins.”
Lama told Valenzuela to seize the opportunity before the final set of the match and saw her come through.
“She showed a lot of composure,” Lama said. “She is a bulldog and is very feisty. She is in good condition. I told her that it was her time at the changeover. She went out and got it done.”
Lama was especially pleased to see Valenzuela and Franziska Sprinkmeyer come through at the final two singles slots. UNT knew coming into the season that it would be strong at the top four singles slots and in doubles.
“We knew we had a really good top four, but at five and six we were going to have freshmen and sophomores,” Lama said. “To beat a top-30 team with the bottom of the order coming through, that makes us tough. We are going to be a tough out at every spot in our lineup.”
UNT is hoping to show that depth today against TCU.
“TCU has been a top dog forever,” Lama said. “It took us 40-something years to beat them at their place last year. To have a chance to play them when they are in the top 20 at our place is special. The girls are really fired up.”
UNT plays host to conference meet
UNT will play host to the Sun Belt Conference swimming and diving meet beginning today at the Rockwall Aquatics Center.
The meet will last four days.
UNT enters the meet with the fastest times in the conference in several events.
Krista Rossum has the top times in both the 50 freestyle (23.21) and 100 breaststroke (1:01.66), while Catia Weickgenant has the best time in both the 200 free (1:48.14) and 500 free (4:48.13).
UNT also has the top times in all four relay events — the 200 (1:33.53), 400 (3:23.04), 800 (7:19.87) and 400 (3:41.50) medley.
Catherine Johnson and Rebecca Taylor combined to be named the Sun Belt Diver of the Week three times this season.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .