North Texas coach Jalie Mitchell saw an opportunity coming after a tough loss to Indiana on Tuesday.
The Mean Green had three games remaining before the opening of Conference USA play, a series that offered the opportunity to pick up a little steam.
UNT took the first step toward reaching that goal on Saturday in the form of an 84-61 win against Incarnate Word at the Super Pit.
Terra Ellison scored a career-high 19 points and hit just about every shot she took on a day there were plenty of positive signs for the Mean Green. UNT (3-6) had three other players finish in double figures and dominated on the glass, where they had struggled so mightily four days ago.
“This win is a very important step,” Mitchell said of turning the season in the right direction. “We gained some confidence and found out a little more about what we look like and what we should look like. That is big. It will be great for us going into our game next week.”
UNT will face Missouri State on Saturday before taking on Texas State on Dec. 22.
The Mean Green then will dive into C-USA play, where they are expected to make a significant jump from last season. UNT went 5-13 in league play a year ago.
The Mean Green didn’t look at all prepared to meet those expectations while being blasted 94-64 at home by Indiana. The Hoosiers finished with a 44-14 edge in rebounds, a performance that sent UNT back to the drawing board.
Incarnate Word (0-7) provided the perfect opponent to test out the adjustments UNT made.
The Mean Green made sure Incarnate Word left without that elusive first win with a solid all-around performance.
Ellison was the star of the game after going 8-for-10 from the floor and grabbing eight rebounds.
“My shot was feeling good in warm-ups,” Ellison said. “Energy from the team helped me. I was getting a lot of offensive rebounds and easy buckets running the floor.”
That was true for several of UNT’s key players.
Terriell Bradley added 17 points, while Tyara Warren and Kelsey Criner finished with 13.
The Mean Green finished with a 39-21 edge in rebounds, a dramatic turnaround from its loss to Indiana. The Hoosiers crushed UNT on the glass 44-14.
“We have been focusing on rebounding after our last game,” Ellison said. “We were able to improve.”
Celia Garcia Paunero finished with 15 points to lead three Incarnate Word players who finished in double figures. Cheyenne Berry and Cassandra Ramirez both scored 11.
That trio kept the Cardinals in what was a close game most of the way.
UNT grabbed the early lead when Criner scored five straight, a run she capped with a 3 that put the Mean Green up 10-7.
UNT led by as many as eight in the first half and headed into the break with a 34-29 edge. The Mean Green finally broke the game open in the fourth quarter, when UNT outscored Incarnate Word 31-16.
“We had a great fourth quarter,” Mitchell said. “We played defense the way we needed to and picked up our energy. The way we performed showed us what we are capable of being. If we can get that all four quarters, we will be in good shape.”
UNT picked up the defensive intensity in the final period.
“We had a lot more energy and pressured the ball,” Bradley said.
The challenge for UNT now is to build on the momentum it established in its win over the Cardinals in its next two games before the beginning of conference play.
“We want to take it one game at a time, but we want to win our last three and get some momentum heading into conference,” Bradley said. “This was a key step.”BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
North Texas 84, Incarnate Word 61
INCARNATE WORD (0-7) — Garcia Paunero 6-11 1-1 15, Berry 4-5 1-2 11, Ajeto 0-4 1-2 1, Merritt 4-10 1-1 9, Frias 1-7 2-2 4, Ramirez 4-6 0-0 11, Busby-Leija 1-3 2-2 4, Cook 3-7 0-0 6. Totals 23-53 8-10 61.
NORTH TEXAS (3-6) — Ellison 8-10 2-2 19, Criner 5-9 1-3 13, Adams 2-8 0-0 6, Bradley 6-12 3-4 17, Townley 0-1 2-2 2, Warren 5-8 2-2 13, Goodhart 1-3 2-2 4, Henderson 1-1 1-2 4, Poland 0-2 0-0 0, Shillow 0-0 0-0 0, Mabodu 0-0 0-0 0, Buckner 2-6 2-2 6. Totals 30-60 15-19 84.
Three-point goals – Incarnate Word 7-13 (Garcia Paunero 2-4, Berry 2-2, Mettitt 0-1, Frias 0-3, Ramirez 3-3) UNT 9-17 (Ellison 1-1, Criner 2-2, Adams 2-7, Bradley 2-3, Warren 1-2, Goodhart 0-1, Henderson 1-1). Fouled out -- Busby-Leija. Rebounds – Incarnate Word 21 (Garcia Paunero 6), UNT 39 (Ellison 8). Assists – Incarnate Word 9 (Two tied, 3), UNT 15 (Criner 65). Total fouls – Incarnate Word 18, UNT 13. A – NA.