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UNT women aiming to capitalize on final tuneup before C-USA play

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

The nonconference season has gone about as well as possible for the North Texas women's basketball team.

The Mean Green have run out to an 8-3 start and knocked off regional rivals SMU and Tulsa.

It's all about finishing now for UNT, which will face Oklahoma Panhandle State in its final game before the beginning of Conference USA play at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Super Pit. 

The UNT men also will be in action today. The Mean Green will face Texas-San Antonio in a 7 p.m. game that will cap a two-game road trip.

"We talked about gaining some momentum heading into next week and making sure we are sharp," UNT women's coach Jalie Mitchell said.

UNT wasn't as focused as it wanted to be during a two-game trip to Illinois, where it fell 70-67 to Illinois-Chicago before bouncing back to beat Eastern Illinois 63-61 in overtime.  Even after a trip that was less than ideal, UNT heads into its final nonconference game in terrific shape.

The Mean Green finished 12-19 last season. If UNT continues to play the way it has in its third season under Mitchell, it will snap a string of 11 straight losing seasons, a slide that dates to a 19-9 mark in the 2005-06 campaign.

UNT is in position to end that skid largely because of the way it has played defensively. The Mean Green rank third nationally with an average of 51.1 points allowed.

"I feel good about the way that we are playing," UNT guard Brittany Smith said. "There are things we need to fix, but they are easy fixes. Our defense has carried us as a team and will allow us to win games."

UNT took a bit of a step back defensively in its last two games and will have a chance to get back on track against the Aggies (8-2) after a nine-day layoff. Panhandle State competes at the NAIA level.

"Our last couple of games, we got away from what we are doing defensively and were not as sharp," Mitchell said. "We hope the break will help solve some of those issues. We have had some really good practices. We know what we need to improve on to get to where we want to be and are working hard to do that. I am excited to put that back on the floor."

Junior guard Terriell Bradley made the game-tying layup in regulation and the winning jumper in overtime to lift UNT past Eastern Illinois and leads the Mean Green with an average of 17.7 points. Freshman guard Lauren Holmes is adding 11.2 points per game. 

UNT will look to the duo to help guide it to a win in its final tuneup for its C-USA opener at Louisiana Tech on Wednesday.

"This game will prepare us for conference play," Smith said. "It's important to play well and carry that over."

The UNT men certainly looked ready for C-USA play Thursday when they opened their league slate with a thrilling 63-62 win at UTEP. 

Roosevelt Smart scored UNT's final 15 points and hit a clutch 3 with 1:59 left to put the Mean Green up for good. Smart finished with 29 points to help UNT win in El Paso for the first time since 1951.

UNT had lost nine straight overall against the Miners.

The Mean Green trailed by six at halftime before rallying behind Smart, who is scoring 18.4 points per game to lead four UNT players averaging in double figures.

"We didn't get many rebounds in the first half and they took three charges," UNT men's coach Grant McCasland said. "I thought they were the more physical team. In the second half we really responded."

UNT will look to build on that win when it takes on a UTSA team that is 8-6 after beating Rice 79-66 in its C-USA opener.

Jhivvan Jackson, a freshman guard who starred at Euless Trinity, is averaging 17.2 points to pace UTSA. 

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito. 

FEATURED PHOTO: North Texas women's basketball coach Jalie Mitchell stands on the sideline at the Super Pit earlier this season.