North Texas Daily

Criner takes key role for women’s basketball after early benching

Criner takes key role for women’s basketball after early benching

January 21
03:19 2016

Brady Keane | Staff Writer


For the first six games of the Mean Green women’s basketball season, junior guard Kelsey Criner was the starting point guard and played an integral role in the team’s upset win over No. 17 Oklahoma University.

But just five games later, Criner found herself on the bench for an early December matchup against Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis.

Head coach Jalie Mitchell decided to bench her playmaker after Criner had three straight games with eight or more turnovers, culminating in the team’s worst offensive performance to date in a 45-38 loss to Weber State University the night before.

Junior guard Kelsey Criner laughs after shooting a basket in practice. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

Junior guard Kelsey Criner laughs after shooting a basket in practice. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

“I think that told everyone else that she’s normal, that she’s human, and that she’s not perfect,” Mitchell said of Criner’s benching. “I feel like it was a wakeup call not only for her, but also for letting the team know how important that particular position and leadership is.”

With Criner out of the starting lineup, the Mean Green faced a daunting 20-point deficit against IUPUI midway through the third quarter. However, the junior point guard came off the bench and sparked a furious comeback that was capped with what would be a Criner game-winning three-pointer with 45 seconds remaining.

“That really just showed me that I can do great things for the team if I keep my mindset right,” Criner said. “It was a learning experience.”

Since the benching and subsequent come-from-behind win, Criner’s production has skyrocketed through the last nine games. In a thrilling 100-97 triple overtime loss to Rice University on Jan. 10,, Criner had one of the most explosive performances in program history by racking up 34 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

She was originally credited with the first triple-double in team history, but a stat correction after the game left the junior a single rebound short of the milestone.

Following the historic performance, Criner was named the Conference USA Player of the Week.

“It was really great at the time, but we had lost to Rice so it was not as enjoyable as it was supposed to be,” Criner said. “But it was an honor. If I do the same things I did during the Rice game, I should do it every single game. That’s the kind of mindset I have to keep.”

Although Criner hasn’t matched that same output each game, she has proven to be an all-around threat for the Mean Green. Criner is the team’s leading scorer at 12.5 points per game, second in rebounding with 6.3 per game and first in steals with 2.2 per game.

Criner also leads Conference USA with 5.1 assists per game and has the second best three-point field goal percentage in the conference at 44.7 percent.

“She’s very fun to play with,” junior shooting guard Candice Adams said. “She’s very energetic, and she likes to push the tempo. I love her game, I love her energy and I love what she brings to the team.”

After transferring to North Texas from New Mexico Junior College to be a part of Mitchell’s program, Criner almost immediately formed a bond with Adams in the backcourt. Their chemistry has helped produce a one-two punch that has been pivotal to the success the Mean Green has found in Mitchell’s first season at the helm.

North Texas junior guard Kelsey Criner (3) works around a San Fransisco defender during Friday night's game. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

North Texas junior guard Kelsey Criner (3) works around a San Fransisco defender. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

After winning just five games in 2014-2015, North Texas has already exceeded that total with seven wins this season and still has 13 games left in the regular season.

“It didn’t take long,” Adams said. “It started in practice, but we were on the same team in the basketball madness. It was just like magic and it kind of formed there. Ever since then, things have been rolling with the one-two punch, and everybody stuck with it.”

Despite this season being her first in a Mean Green uniform, Criner holds an important leadership position on the team. As the point guard, even the most seasoned players on the squad look to Criner for leadership on both the offensive and defensive side of the court.

The high energy Criner displays is contagious and causes her teammates to match her intensity.

“When she’s in the game, our spirits are up. Our energy is up,” senior forward Acheil Tac said. “Her energy out there trickles down through everybody, and it gets us going.”

The Mean Green are currently sitting at 10th place in the C-USA standings, but will have an opportunity to make up some ground with three straight home games, beginning tonight against Middle Tennessee State University at 7 p.m.

Criner is averaging almost 14 points per game at home this season, and her intensity could be crucial for the Mean Green to build momentum moving into the second half of conference play.

“I’m the point guard, and I’m a leader,” Criner said. “It’s an example that I set for my team, and it sets the tone of the game. If they see me hustling and D’ing up, then they want to do the same.”

Featured Image: Junior guard Kelsey Criner steps up to take a shot in practice. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

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1 Comment

  1. A BIG FAN
    A BIG FAN January 21, 23:37

    Awesome article!!!

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