There have been times over the last few weeks when the North Texas women’s basketball team has played just the way coach Mike Petersen has wanted.
UNT has taken care of the ball and been efficient on the offensive end in addition to playing the solid defense that has become a staple throughout the year.
Heading into a home game at 7 tonight against Tulsa (9-7, 3-2 Conference USA), UNT’s focus is on finding a way to play at that high level for a higher percentage of the time.
“It’s a broken record,” Petersen said. “I feel pretty good about how we are playing, but I don’t feel good about how we are sustaining it. Usually it’s an offensive focus issue.”
The latest example came Saturday against Florida Atlantic. UNT (8-11, 2-4) led by six after Laura McCoy buried a 3 with 10:37 remaining, but it coughed up an 18-0 run and didn’t score again until Alexis Hyder converted a three-point play with 4:55 left.
By that point, UNT was well on its way to an 82-69 loss.
The early stages of the game were what gave UNT fits in a loss to Texas-San Antonio on Jan. 18. The Mean Green trailed the Roadrunners by 18 before rallying. The Mean Green lost 58-56 on Miki Turner’s 25-foot buzzer beater.
UNT has led with less than 10 minutes to play in five of its six conference games, and has let chance after chance at key wins get away.
“We have been doing a very good job in stretches against teams in conference,” UNT forward Briesha Wynn said. “We just need to finish those out like we are capable of. We talk about mistake response and going on to the next play. We have to keep our focus.”
UNT’s biggest concern heading into its game against Tulsa at the Super Pit is taking care of the ball. The Mean Green is averaging 18.9 turnovers per game, a total that ranks 15th out of 16 teams in the league.
That number can be attributed largely to the high pace at which UNT plays, but Petersen sees room for improvement.
“We have been very focused on working on it,” Petersen said. “We have tried to simplify what we are doing. We are not trying to do the most complicated things.
“We make the oddest turnovers at the oddest times.”
Those turnovers have prevented UNT from getting the ball inside to Wynn and Hyder, who are each averaging 10.4 points per game.
UNT sees getting both players opportunities to score as a key to becoming more consistent, beginning tonight. The Golden Hurricane has won two straight behind sophomore guard Ashley Clark, who is averaging 14.6 points for the season and has scored 20 points in two of her last three games.
“We need to stay with it and continue to go inside and work out,” UNT point guard Candice Adams said. “That is when we are the most effective.”
UNT to face C-USA’s best at taking care of ball
UNT will face one of C-USA’s best teams when it comes to taking care of the ball on Saturday when it travels to Tulsa.
The Golden Hurricane (9-11, 4-2) is averaging a league-low 11.0 turnovers per game and ranks third in the league in turnover margin at plus-2.25.
UNT also ranks in the top half of the league at seventh with a turnover margin of minus-0.65.
The Mean Green (11-9, 2-4) posted one of its better performances in taking care of the ball last week in a 76-65 win over UAB. UNT finished with 15 assists and just 10 turnovers.
UNT picked fifth in C-USA
UNT was picked to finish fifth in Conference USA in the league’s preseason coaches poll, which was released Tuesday in advance of what will be a season of transition for the program.
The Mean Green is entering its first season in C-USA and will be under the direction of a new coach.
Tracey Kee took over the program in the offseason after spending 16 years as the head coach at East Carolina. Kee replaced T.J. Hubbard, who is now the associate head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette.
UNT will open the season with a game against James Madison at the Red and Black Showcase at Georgia on Feb. 7.
UNT had just one player selected to the preseason all-conference team in senior infielder Brooke Foster, but has several key players returning, including senior pitcher Ashley Kirk.
Foster hit .377 with six home runs, while Kirk finished 15-10 with a 2.38 ERA last season.
“I most definitely feel good about being able to compete in Conference USA,” Kee said. “It’s a pitching conference. Marshall, Tulsa and UAB were the teams with the lowest ERA last year. Although I inherited a staff without a boatload of collegiate innings outside of Kirk, our pitchers have worked hard and can make an impact.”
UAB was picked to win the conference, while Tulsa was picked second and Marshall third.
UNT finished 29-24 last season.
UNT heads to Arkansas after challenging weekend
UNT will face Arkansas and Southern Illinois this weekend after a challenging trip to Los Angeles for the ITA Kick-Off.
UNT was swept 4-0 by sixth-ranked USC and fell 4-1 to No. 58 Utah. Freshman Ana Sofia Cordero picked up UNT’s lone win of the weekend, knocking off Paige Miles 6-1, 6-2 at No. 5 singles.
Despite winning only that match, UNT coach Sujay Lama saw several bright spots in his team’s performance in its first action since a loss to Oklahoma.
“We made huge improvement from our match against Oklahoma,” Lama said. “USC is a favorite to win the national title. Their coach came up to me after the match and said that he was impressed and that we had a top-30-caliber team.”
UNT was No. 60 in last week’s ITA poll and is not close to full strength. Kseniya Bardabush, UNT’s top player, and Franziska Sprinkmeyer have been sidelined early this season because of injuries.
Sprinkmeyer could play this weekend, while Bardabush could need a few more weeks to return.
Lama said UNT will have to focus on the process of improving as a team while waiting for its full aresenal of players to return.
“We are young,” Lama said. “We are still learning and growing.”
Track and field
UNT wins seven events at J.D. Martin Invitational
UNT won seven events at the J.D. Martin Invitational last week at Oklahoma.
Anthony Hamilton won the 400 meters in 49.43, while Clint Clarke won the triple jump with a mark of 15.05 meters.
Chastity Stewart won the 60 hurdles in 8.66 seconds, Charlotte Wilson the mile in 5:05.27, Ashley Henry the 200 in 25.26 and Madison Northcutt the pole vault at 3.59 meters.
UNT will continue its season Friday at the Leonard Hamilton Memorial Invitational in Houston.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
Conference USA Preseason Softball Poll
1. UAB (7 first-place votes)
2. Tulsa (5)
4. East Carolina (1)
5. North Texas
6. Florida International
7. Florida Atlantic
8. Louisiana Tech
9. Texas-San Antonio
11. Southern Mississippi
13. Middle Tennessee
Preseason All-Conference USA Team
Preseason Player of the Year — Jill Barrett, Tulsa, Sr., IF, Greenwood, Ark.
Preseason Pitcher of the Year — Aimee Creger, Tulsa, Sr., RHP, Yukon, Okla.
P, Aimee Creger, Tulsa, Sr.; P, Lannah Campbell, UAB, Sr.; C Megan Low, UTSA, Jr.; IF, Chelsea Ingersoll, Charlotte, Sr.; IF, Brooke Foster, North Texas, Sr.; IF, Jill Barrett, Tulsa, Sr.; IF, Caitlin Attfield, UAB, So.; OF, Kaelynn Greene, Marshall, So.; OF, Haley Henshaw, Tulsa, Sr.; OF, Darian Blake, UTSA, Sr.; DP, Erin Kipp, Louisiana Tech, Sr.; UT, Anna Cross, Louisiana Tech, So.; UT, Shaelynn Braxton, Marshall, So.