North Texas women’s basketball is now 2-7 in conference play after dropping their past five games. It has been a stretch that has forced head coach Jalie Mitchell and her team to take a hard look at themselves and what they need to improve on going forward.
While the defense has taken a step back, Mitchell knows it is the offensive side of the ball where the team’s primary issues lie.
“You have to score to beat people,” Mitchell said after practice on Jan. 27.
The Mean Green had fallen to Western Kentucky University the night before for their third straight loss. WKU is one of Conference USA’s best teams, and despite the Mean Green shooting 42.3 percent, they still came up short.
“We shot the ball well,” Mitchell said of their performance. “We had a few people in double figures and we moved the ball a lot better than the past few games.”
It’s those past few games that have kept Mitchell up at night, even changing the starting lineup before the game against the Hilltoppers.
In the Jan. 18 loss at Middle Tennessee State University, North Texas shot 34 percent from the field. Two days later against the University of Alabama at Birmingham, they fell after shooting even worse at 30.9 percent. On Jan. 28, against the University of Texas at El Paso, the Mean Green posted a 35.4 percent shooting effort. Finally, the women posted a 31.8 percent field goal percentage in their most recent loss to the University of Texas at San Antonio Friday night.
Junior guard Terriell Bradley has not only been North Texas’ best player this season, she’s been one of the conference’s premiere players. A season-high 29 points against WKU and 22 points against the University of Texas at El Paso brought Bradley to 18.2 points per game on the season. Her 18.2 points per game would be tied for the No.5 season scoring average in school history and the most since her coach, Jalie Mitchell, averaged 19.4 back in 2002.
Unfortunately, her elite play is sometimes a solo act, bringing the opposing defense to her doorstep all game long. Whether it’s one of the guards –freshmen Lauren Holmes and Trena Mims or juniors Brittany Smith and Grace Goodhart– or even junior post Micayla Buckner, Bradley will need a Robin or two to her Batman for North Texas to garner a more balanced offensive attack.
“I feel like there was only one game where we put a lot on [Bradley’s] shoulders,” Mitchell said. “But other than that, definitely more people than her have to make shots. Just because it makes sure the defense has to worry about everybody and not just focus on her. When Micayla is on her game, or Grace and Lauren are knocking down shots, Brittany and Trena, it just opens the game up more for her.”
Buckner gives the Mean Green a post presence that few in the conference can match. The inside game –and the entire offense– largely depends on the impact she can make under the basket. While Bradley is the leading scorer, Buckner is the team’s top rebounder, shot blocker and most efficient shooter.
“Our post presence is, without question, the most important thing for us,” Mitchell said. “[Defenses] have to be able to focus on our inside and outside game. If it’s just one, then we’re easy to guard. But if it’s both, I think it’s a lot tougher.”
The third-year coach is not in the dark about how important shooting the basketball is for her team. The recent shooting struggles have mostly come on the road, away from the friendly confines of The Super Pit and have not plagued the team nearly as bad at home, where they are 8-4.
“It’s something we work on and focus on on a daily basis,” Mitchell said. “We’ve struggled a couple times at home, [but] the majority of our shooting struggles have come on the road. It’s one of those things where you’re in a different environment, a different arena, different backgrounds. We shoot as much as we can and sometimes the ball doesn’t fall.”
If shooting on the road continues to be an issue, this upcoming stretch could continue to present a challenge as three of the team’s next four games are on the road, making this a pivotal stretch for Mitchell and her team.
“Other than the ball not falling, a couple of topics we talk about as a team, one is just being relaxed.” Mitchell said. “When we move the ball really well and we open up and we’re shooting open shots versus contested, I think the ball naturally goes in more. You got it wide open, it’s just you and the rim.”
Featured image: North Texas Guard Adrianna Henderson approaches the basket against two defenders. there are just over four minutes left in the first half.