First-place women on a roll; men struggling
The North Texas women have spent a lot of time chasing in recent years while sitting anywhere from a few games out of first to the bottom of the Sun Belt Conference standings.
The opposite often has been true for the UNT men, who have been in the hunt for a division title heading into the late stages of the season.
The roles will be reversed today when the Mean Green faces South Alabama in a doubleheader at the Super Pit that will begin with the women’s game at 5 p.m.
The UNT women may only be 5-10 on the year, but they are alone in first place in the Sun Belt West Division at 4-2.
The UNT men (6-11, 1-5) are on the other end of the spectrum as the last team in the Sun Belt that does not have at least two league wins.
“It does probably change things a little bit,” UNT women’s coach Mike Petersen said. “The first couple of league games we played, other teams looked at us and said, ‘They are 2 and something.’ Now all of the sudden they are going to look at it and see that we are in first place in our division. We are going to get everybody’s best shot. That’s great. That’s what you want.”
UNT has gotten to that point with a three-game winning streak, highlighted by a milestone win at Arkansas-Little Rock on Wednesday at the Jack Stephens Center, where the Trojans have lost just 10 Sun Belt games since the venue opened for the 2005-06 season.
UNT escaped with a 68-65 win over the Trojans in a battle for first place in the division standings.
“It’s a change to be in first place,” UNT junior guard Desiree Nelson said. “Our confidence has definitely risen. We are playing harder and learning to play together as a team.”
The result has been a solid run for UNT, which lost close games to Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky before knocking off Troy, Louisiana-Monroe and UALR in consecutive games.
UNT has had at least one player score 20 points in each of its last four games. Laura McCoy has eclipsed the mark in each of the last two games.
Freshman Alexis Hyder leads UNT with an average of 13.2 points per game.
Senior guard Mary Nixon leads USA (10-6, 3-4) with an average of 12.0 points a game. Former UNT guard Mansa El is adding 9.4 points per game.
The UNT men have been heading in the opposite direction of the women, losing five of their last six games while dealing with a series of injuries. UNT only had seven scholarship players available against UALR on Thursday.
UNT led that game by five at halftime before the Trojans ran past the Mean Green for a 67-53 win. UNT scored just 21 points in the second half.
The Mean Green could have forwards Jacob Holmen (plantar fasciitis) and Justin Patton (knee) back today. Neither practiced Friday and they are questionable for today’s game, so UNT will continue to lean on Tony Mitchell.
Mitchell is averaging 14.6 points and 8.9 rebounds heading into a showdown with USA star Augustine Rubit. The junior post player is averaging 19.3 points and 11.2 rebounds a game.
“No one is going to feel sorry for us,” UNT men’s coach Tony Benford said. “We have to get out here, continue to compete and have everyone raise their level of play. We need Tony to have some monster games for us.”
UNT is looking at today’s game as an opportunity to turn its fortunes around late in the season.
“It’s going to be a big game for us,” UNT guard Jordan Williams said. “We need to protect home, get on a run and try to win some games.”
That’s what the UNT women did when times were tough.
“We responded to disappointment as well as any team I have ever been around,” Petersen said. “Now our task is to see how we respond to having something good happen to us. How will we respond to success? Some teams handle it well, some teams don’t.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.