While losing in close games has not been uncommon for the North Texas women’s basketball team (9-17, 3-11 Conference USA) this season, the Mean Green have had opportunities to win big games down the stretch. And quite simply, they have not been able to capitalize.
With their sixth and seventh straight losses to C-USA’s No. 1 seeded Old Dominion (23-4, 13-2) and Rice (18-8, 13-2), the losses both came by less than six points. However, the women’s team remains confident in their ability to succeed.
“I think we can compete with anybody,” head coach Jalie Mitchell said.
Nine of the 11 conference losses this season for the Mean Green have come by less than a total of 10 points. Of the eight losses, North Texas had the advantage at halftime in six of them.
“Every game is different,” Mitchell said. “We have to do better at the little moments in games like stopping runs, executing better and taking better care of the ball.”
Despite North Texas’ ability to be competitive in games this season, the team sits a game out of the last-place spot in C-USA. The team has eight new players this season, five freshmen and four transfer players, which means this team had a learning curve to face, Mitchell said.
“No doubt it’s had to do with a [lack] of experience,” Mitchell said. “But, it’s also a great experience for our freshman. They wouldn’t have been able to improve in some of the areas they have if it weren’t for that experience.”
Despite the lacking in the winning column, a number of freshmen have played significant roles for Mitchell, including point guard N’Yah Boyd, who is averaging 8.8 points in 26 minutes a game. Freshman Randi Thompson is currently averaging 22 minutes and eight points. Another freshman point guard is Jazion Jackson, who is second in assists on the team to Boyd and averages 22 minutes a night. She is joined by freshman forward Destinee McDowell, who averages 11.1 points a game in 22.8 minutes.
“It’s one thing to sit on the bench and watch the game,” Mitchell said. “But, it’s another to play through and mature on the court. The amounts of film they watch, playing time and just getting used to the pace and aggression, the [freshmen] have naturally come on.”
The Mean Green have three games left in the season and a chance to get back into the playoff picture for C-USA. Senior post player Anisha George doesn’t see the progression of the new players stopping the team from solving the late-game situation issue.
“I think our play [down the stretch] will get better by the end of the season,” George said. “It has to do with experience and our understanding that we have to go hard for forty minutes. We need to be aggressive and get after it.”
George is in her last season with the team and is prepared to hand the reins over to the freshmen she’s played with this season. However, she believes is crucial for them to figure out their struggles in crunch time.
“I think that we are going to have a really good year next year, and especially with the fact that we’ll have experience,” Thompson said in an interview with the North Texas Daily. “I just think that it is a lot of people who aren’t experienced with the competitiveness of college basketball.”
The team has worked on its play in the clutch and Mitchell believes the struggles will turn into late-game success as the freshmen on the team continue to progress.
“The crunch-time situations have been a focus since the start of the issue,” Mitchell said. “We work on game situations in practice, how to execute plays, how to read the defense and we give them scenarios trying to help our players get used to making plays because we’ll be looking to these players and some of them will be freshman in crunch time and they’re going to have to deliver for us.”
Whether North Texas finds resolutions to its struggles in the clutch to compete for a chance in the conference tournament will pan out over its final three games of C-USA play this season, and the final matchups may give glimpses as what is to come for the future of the women’s basketball program.
Featured Image: Freshman guard, Randi Thompson shoots a mid-range jumper against Alabama-Birmingham on Feb 8, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas