The way the North Texas women’s basketball team looks at it, there will be a title on the line today when SMU comes to town.
That title doesn’t come with a trophy or a postseason bid. It’s not even official, but the idea of being the champion of Metroplex hoops sounds awfully good to the Mean Green.
UNT (5-5) has already beaten Texas-Arlington and doesn’t have TCU on the schedule this year. A win in today’s game would make the Mean Green 2-0 against its local rivals on the year.
SMU (8-2) has already beaten TCU, leaving UNT and the Mustangs as the two teams left with a chance to go unbeaten locally on the year.
“It’s like we said before the UTA game, you want to beat the people close to you and SMU has had a very, very good women’s basketball program for 25 years,” UNT head coach Mike Petersen said. “People respect their program, and they should, because they have been good for 25 years.”
UNT’s chance to pick up what would be a milestone win will come at noon today in a doubleheader that will conclude when the Mean Green men (6-5) take on Wayland Baptist (7-1).
That game will have added significance for UNT men’s coach Tony Benford, whose nephew, Juhreece Thompson, plays for the Pioneers.
“He’s a great kid,” Benford said. “My family is coming to town. We are looking forward to the game. He texted a few weeks ago and said, ‘It’s on.’”
There is always plenty of motivation for UNT in games against SMU, its neighbor to the south that has dominated the series. The Mustangs enter today’s game with a 28-15 lead when it comes to the schools series in women’s basketball and have won six of the last seven meetings.
UNT lost to SMU 67-63 last season but did beat the Mustangs 50-46 two years ago.
“It’s time to make history,” UNT forward Alexis Hyder said. “We have talked about it a lot. If we can win this at home, it would show people a lot.”
The key to the game for UNT could be its ability to contain Keena Mays. SMU’s senior guard is averaging 19.8 points and 4.8 assists a game.
Petersen said UNT will have to keep the Mustangs out of transition, where they excel, not to mention stay in front of Mays.
The Kansas transfer is a huge part of SMU’s offense because of her ability to score and get her teammates involved.
“She is going to make shots and good plays,” UNT guard Desiree Nelson said. “We have to contain her and not let her go on an 8-0 run. We have to play good help defense.”
UNT comes into the game with a little momentum after hammering Denver 93-74 in its last game behind 27 points from junior guard Janis Peterson on Tuesday.
A win today would give UNT a run of three wins in its last four games, a sweep of two key rivals and a lot of momentum heading into an seven-day Christmas break.
Containing Mays could be the key to capitalizing on that opportunity.
“You are not going to stop her,” Petersen said. “You have to take her out of her comfort zone and stay between her and the rim. We have to make her play over the top of us, and that starts in transition defense.”
The UNT men are also looking to build a little momentum heading into the Christmas break after beating Central Arkansas in their last game.
The Mean Green won’t play again until facing Texas A&M on New Year’s Eve.
“It can be an early Christmas present for us,” UNT guard Jordan Williams said. “We want to keep it going heading down to A&M. Another win would be great for morale.”
A win certainly wouldn’t hurt matters either. UNT has won consecutive games just once this season when it strung together three straight in late November.
Starting point guard Chris Jones is still battling a bad back, and centers Keith Coleman and Kelvin Gaines are still working their way back from injuries.
Benford believes UNT will continue to improve as those players work their way back into shape.
“I like this team,” Benford said. “We haven’t played well at times, but there are a lot of teams that are not going to get any better. This team will improve.”
UNT will look to take another step toward that goal today against Wayland Baptist, which ranks among the top 15 teams nationally in the NAIA ranks in scoring (11th, 93.3 points a game) and defense (ninth, 65.0 points a game).
Thompson is averaging 10.5 points and 6.0 rebounds a game and will look to build on those totals against UNT and Benford with family cheering on both in the stands.
“This team is very skilled, shoots the ball well and plays hard,” Benford said. “They are not a typical NAIA team.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.