North Texas already has faced arguably the best team in Conference USA in the early stages of the league schedule.
Tonight, the Mean Green will face quite possibly the league’s best player — one who happens to be on quite a roll heading into UNT’s game at Florida International (8-9, 2-2 C-USA).
Jerica Coley, C-USA’s Preseason Player of the Year, ranks second nationally with an average of 29.6 points per game and is coming off a 43-point effort in a loss to Tulsa on Saturday.
UNT (7-10, 1-3) has lost three of its last four while facing a brutal early-season schedule that included a game against league power Middle Tennessee, which narrowly missed cracking The Associated Press’ Top 25 this week.
How UNT fares against Coley could go a long way toward determining whether the Mean Green can open a road trip that will conclude with a game at Florida Atlantic on a high note.
“She is extremely confident and never speeds up,” UNT coach Mike Petersen said of Coley. “She plays at the same pace and is always looking to score.”
That is just what Coley did while going 17-for-31 from the field in a 78-73 loss to the Golden Hurricane.
Coley has been a thorn in the side of Sun Belt and now C-USA teams for years. The 5-8 senior guard scored 26 points in a win over UNT and 15 in a loss to the Mean Green last year.
“We have to work on containing her,” UNT guard Laura McCoy said. “We have to execute, keep her in front of us and not let her get too hot. She has so many different aspects to her game. She can get to the goal and shoot it. You have to play her straight up.”
Senior guard Desiree Nelson is one of UNT’s top perimeter defenders and will be one of the players who has a key role in trying to slow Coley down. Nelson said UNT’s players know that Coley will score her share of points.
The key is to contain her. Do that and UNT believes it will have a chance to bounce back from a tough 58-56 loss to Texas-San Antonio on Saturday.
UNT came back from an 18-point deficit and had a one-point lead after McCoy hit a 3-pointer with six seconds left. The Roadrunners answered when they worked the ball to Miki Turner, who hit a turnaround, one-handed, 28-foot bank shot at the buzzer.
“It was a tough loss, but we learned a lot from it,” Nelson said. “We are learning how to play in different situations and finish games.”
Finishing has been a problem for UNT all season. By Petersen’s count, UNT has lost seven one-possession games.
“In our league right now, there is not a lot of difference between teams,” Petersen said. “We have to do a better job of managing close games.”
UNT also would like to do a better job of not falling behind early.
The Mean Green was down 10 at halftime against Charlotte and lost 61-59. UNT trailed SMU by nine at halftime before pushing the Mustangs to overtime in a game it lost 84-79.
UNT had a chance to beat SMU at the buzzer but saw Alexis Hyder’s potential winner roll out.
Hyder is averaging 9.6 points per game. Briesha Wynn leads UNT at 9.9 points a game.
UNT is hoping that tandem can help the Mean Green get back on track in Florida.
“It’s important to get something going,” McCoy said. “It would be good for us to get two on the road.”
Canales interviews for Sam Houston job
UNT offensive coordinator Mike Canales interviewed Tuesday at Sam Houston State, which is looking for a new head coach.
The school announced that Canales was the fifth finalist who was invited to Huntsville for an interview.
Former Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, former Northwest Missouri State head coach Mel Tjeersdma, Virginia offensive line coach Scott Wachenheim and former Texas assistant Darrell Wyatt are the other candidates for the position.
Canales was headed back to Denton on Tuesday afternoon after his interview.
Canales posted a 2-3 record as an interim head coach at UNT at the end of the 2010 season and led the Mean Green to one of its most productive offensive seasons in recent years in 2013.
UNT averaged 31.8 points per game and set a school record for points scored in a bowl game in its 36-14 win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
UNT to face one of C-USA’s best rebounding teams
UNT will face one of C-USA’s best teams when it comes to rebounding Thursday when the Mean Green hosts UAB.
The Blazers (12-5, 1-2) lead the league in just about every rebounding category, from rebounding margin (plus-11.0) to offensive rebounds (16.65 per game) to defensive rebounds (29.82 per game).
UAB has four players averaging at least 6.6 rebounds, including 6-8 forward C.J. Washington. The junior is averaging 7.6 rebounds per game.
UNT (10-8, 1-3) ranks 10th out of 16 teams in the league with a rebounding margin of plus-1.2 and has held its own on the glass in most of its C-USA games.
UNT outrebounded Marshall 42-41 in its lone conference win and battled Charlotte to a 29-all draw on the glass. UNT was outrebounded 41-37 by Tulane and 36-30 by Southern Mississippi.
UNT does not have a player in C-USA’s top 20 in rebounding average for all games, but Jordan Williams is tied for 17th in league play at 6.0 per game.
UNT to play in ITA Kick-Off
UNT will play in the ITA Kick-Off this week in Los Angeles, where the Mean Green will face USC on Friday.
UNT lost 7-0 to No. 34 Oklahoma on Sunday.
The Mean Green is No. 60 in this week’s ITA poll.
Track and field
Collins runs top time in 400
Senior Clinton Collins posted a time of 41.17 in the 400 meters at the Texas A&M Team Invitational, a mark that ranks 12th nationally and second in C-USA this season.
The time was the best of Collins’ career. He won the event.
Ashley Henry finished fourth in the 400 in a time of 57.13 to lead the UNT women.
UNT finished fourth in the men’s team standings and fifth in the women’s standings.
The Mean Green will continue its season Saturday at the J.D. Martin Invitational in Norman, Okla.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.