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Women’s basketball preview: Mean Green hope to continue upswing in head coach Jalie Mitchell’s second season

Women’s basketball preview: Mean Green hope to continue upswing in head coach Jalie Mitchell’s second season

Junior guard Kelsey Criner (3) drives the basket for a layup against the Charlotte 49ers. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Women’s basketball preview: Mean Green hope to continue upswing in head coach Jalie Mitchell’s second season
November 02
16:23 2016

Last year, no one knew where the Mean Green women’s basketball program was going.

With a new, first-time head coach in Jalie Mitchell at the helm, the team departed for Norman, Oklahoma for their second game in mid-November. They jumped out to a six-point lead at halftime against the nationally ranked Sooners, and held on for what would be a monumental and defining victory.

“When we beat Oklahoma, we just played really well and made history,” senior guard Kelsey Criner said. “It showed us how to win and what it looks like to win [big] games.

The team finished with an 11-19 record in 2015, six victories more than the season prior. And while the win total was impressive for a rookie head coach, Mitchell transformed North Texas’ style of play both offensive and defensively.

The team averaged 9.5 more points per game in Mitchell’s first year than in 2014. They upped their three-point percentage by 8.9 percent to a respectable 33.2 percent. They averaged 12 assists per game last year, 4.3 more than in the year before.

“I’m not surprised [at the success],” Mitchell said. “I think other people were, but I knew that we had talent and we worked hard and good things can always happen from those two things.”

In just one season, Mitchell was able to drastically improve the Mean Green with a limited roster. While the offensive numbers are staggering, the rebounding numbers are numbing as well. Last season, the team out-rebounded opponents by 1.3 boards per game. North Texas also corralled 67 percent of possible defensive rebounds, good enough for fourth in Conference USA in 2015.

With even more talent at her disposal this year thanks to a plethora of transfers and recruits, Mitchell seems poised to keep the momentum.

“There hasn’t been much of a change [in Mitchell’s approach],” senior guard Terra Ellison said. “This year we’re still trying to improve this program. She’s still being a really good coach, being on us, teaching us and just pushing us.”

Junior guard Candice Adams (14) passes to the baseline for an assist against Southern Mississippi University. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Senior guard Candice Adams (14) passes to the baseline for an assist against Southern Mississippi University last season. Colin Mitchell

Even though last season was an improvement, there are still kinks that need to be ironed out. Two of them are turnovers and consistency.

The team played a faster pace last year, which was new to most of the players. This led to an increase in turnovers and inability to protect the ball. The Mean Green averaged a gaudy 19.5 turnovers per game last season, which frequently came back to bite them in close contests.

“We’re just looking to make the right passes and right decisions,” Criner said. “Everybody is getting their court IQ up.”

While the team won big games over Oklahoma, SMU and Marshall, they also lost tough games to Texas State and Old Dominion. The next step for Mitchell and the team is getting consistent play, which should be more manageable with the influx of talent.

But this team is still relatively young, so the process will not be a cake walk.

“Last year we dealt with some injuries, so this year we’ll be able to be more consistent because of the depth that we have,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s all about mindset as far as consistency goes. Leadership, accountability and communication are going to be key.”

Mitchell’s offense is centered around running in transition and catching opponents off guard, so conditioning and having durable players will be key.

“I like to play fast,” Mitchell said. “I like to get up and down. But I also like to play smart and under control. And there will be times when we need to slow it down, and I expect my point guards to know when that is and get a quality shot.”

With a talented backcourt at her fingertips, Mitchell has plenty of players to call on. Sophomore transfers Tyara Warren and Grace Goodhart, and junior Stabresa McDaniel all add depth to the returning guards in seniors Candice Adams, Kelsey Criner and Terra Ellison.

When they want to slow it down, their frontcourt can also do damage on the low block and clean the glass. In the post are transfers Justis Szczepanski and Micayla Buckner, freshmen Madi Townley, Jada Poland and Hannah Hopkins, and returning junior Tosin Mabodu.

The Mean Green’s 2016 campaign tips off on Friday, Nov. 11, and North Texas was picked to finish sixth in the C-USA preseason poll.

But their expectations are much higher.

“Our goal is to finish first in our conference,” Ellison said “We haven’t been ranked that high in a long time in preseason, so it’s a lot of respect from other teams. [We want to] improve on what we did last year and win more games.”

With more talent and a belief they can win, the focus now shifts to a four-month trek towards March, and hopefully, a berth in the NCAA tournament.

“Everybody knows that the expectations are high,” Mitchell said. “Everybody knows that we’re supposed to be better, but you still have to remain humble and hungry. And people are praising [us] a lot, but I don’t think we’ve earned that praise.”

Featured Image: Senior guard Kelsey Criner (3) drives the basket for a layup against the Charlotte 49ers last season. Colin Mitchell

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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