Mike Petersen didn’t have the friendliest set of circumstances for his first season at North Texas.
His top returning player, Jasmine Godbolt, was injured and ended up being dismissed before ever playing a game. He had a host of young players he had to depend on, didn’t have a particularly favorable schedule and was the Mean Green’s third head coach in three years.
The season didn’t unfold quite the way Petersen or his players had hoped, partly because of those circumstances, and the Mean Green stumbled to an 11-19 finish.
UNT capped its 13-year stay in the Sun Belt Conference with an upset loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in the opening round of the SBC tournament, but there were some bright signs for the future.
“All season long we competed really well almost every night,” Petersen said. “Having said that, there is no question that we left games on the table we should have won. We all know the list. We did some things right and made some progress but didn’t reach the goals we set at the beginning of the season. That’s pretty common. Your goals should be really high. I don’t think you should ever go into a season saying, ‘Gosh, I hope we go .500 in the league.’”
UNT did just that, finishing with a 10-10 mark in Sun Belt play that was a milestone for the program.
The Mean Green had suffered through six straight losing seasons in conference play when Petersen arrived and had not won 10 Sun Belt games since the 2001-02 season. UNT got a few more cracks at it with a 20-game conference slate this year and got there in its regular-season finale, a 53-51 win over Arkansas State.
UNT played between 15 and 18 conference games in its first 12 years in the Sun Belt, which had a solid year with four teams winning at least 19 games by the end of the conference tournament.
The Mean Green had a chance to leave the Sun Belt with at least one win in the league tournament, but squandered a few chances to put away the Ragin’ Cajuns before falling 80-74 in double overtime.
“It’s disappointing because you want to leave it all on the floor with a win and not a loss,” freshman forward Alexis Hyder said.
UNT saw losses mount early in the season when it traveled a tough road in nonconference play that included trips to Oklahoma, SMU, Alabama and New Mexico in addition to a home game against Arizona.
What Petersen found encouraging was how several young players progressed in their first season with the team.
Hyder averaged 14.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, fellow freshman Loryn Goodwin posted 13.1 points a game and sophomore transfer BreAnna Dawkins added 10.1 points.
Dawkins was in her first season playing for UNT after transferring from Wichita State.
Goodwin led the Sun Belt with an average of 2.9 steals per game and was named the league’s freshman of the year.
Goodwin and Hyder were third-team All-Sun Belt selections.
Senior forward Sara Stanley, who averaged 8.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, is the only player among UNT’s top 10 scorers who will not return.
The players adjusted to Petersen’s up-tempo style as the year progressed.
“We got better as the season went along,” Petersen said. “We had to tweak a lot of what we were doing a lot of this year based on personnel. We played more zone this year than I have ever played in my life. When we went to it almost exclusively at the beginning of league play, we played a lot better. It was the right thing to do.”
UNT will have more options next season, thanks to the addition of several key transfers and recruits, including Taylor Hooker, Briesha Wynn and Candace Adams.
Hooker averaged 11.8 points per game while playing the first two seasons of her college career at Tulsa. Wynn played two seasons at TCU, while Adams, a guard from Cedar Hill, is No. 99 on ESPN’s list of the top 100 players in the class of 2013.
Petersen says he believes UNT will have the talent it takes to compete in Conference USA right away. The Mean Green lost by four at SMU and 11 at Tulane. Those teams finished first and tied for second, respectively, in the C-USA regular-season standings.
“I’m excited for next year,” Petersen said. “We have players back who accounted for 80 to 90 percent of our points, rebounds and assists. With the group that sat out and the group that signed, we will add some very significant pieces. Next year’s team will have a very high ceiling.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .