Team finishes on a three game skid after difficult regular season campaign, will face Howard Payne in opening round
After a season filled with young players and growing pains, the women’s basketball team qualified for the ASC tournament, which will be held at UT Tyler starting Feb. 25, for the tenth season in a row. To win it, however, the Comets will have to leap over a number of hurdles — including what may be the best team in conference history.
Last year, the Comets took home the ASC crown after hosting the conference tournament and knocking out rival UT Tyler in the championship game. Led by a senior heavy roster, UTD finished with a 26-5 record, the best in program history, and advanced all the way to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament.
This year, the team has had to take a step back. With just three players who saw major minutes in last year’s campaign returning for the season, UTD is sneaking into the tournament as the fourth seed in the Eastern division with a 14-11 record.
Head coach Polly Thomason said rebuilding after having so much success hasn’t been easy.
“We thought we could just come right in and it’s just changing of the guard and we’ll do the same thing,” she said. “The adjustment is realizing, with just six returners, it was just a lot more difficult than we thought it was going to be.”
Thomason said she was still pleased with the experience and playing time younger teammates have been able to get as a result of the lack of upperclassmen.
“I think, moving forward, there’s a lot of really good talent here and there’s a lot of really hard workers and good kids that want to be successful. And now that they have experience and now that they’ve gone through a season where maybe we don’t win 20 games … they’ll be able to use that as motivation for their future — like a couple of teams in the past have here,” Thomason said.
Heading into the tournament, the team will be facing off against Howard Payne University, the No. 1 seed in the ASC West. This year, HPU went 16-9, including a 68-57 win over the Comets when the two teams met on Jan. 2.
Thomason said for the team to have a chance to win its first round game, it will have to shut down HPU guard Danyel Bradley, who is averaging 19.8 points per game and shooting nearly 50 percent from the field.
“She can do anything,” Thomason said. “She can shoot the three, attack off the dribble, I think that’s going to be our number one priority — being able to contain her and limiting her touches and limiting her good looks and open looks.”
Thomason also emphasized the need for the defense to step up to give UTD a shot to advance.
Senior guard Jasmine Lopez, who transferred this year from UT Tyler and is the team’s third-highest active scorer, said the team has regrouped since its loss to Howard Payne earlier this year.
“Looking back then, we aren’t the same team even though it was like a couple of months ago,” she said. “It’s crazy how our team has changed in a positive way.”
Although the field of opponents for UTD is unclear after the first round, one thing is almost certain — all roads to the ASC title will go through fifth-ranked UT Tyler.
The Patriots enter the tournament as only the second team in conference history to finish the season with no losses to Eastern Division opponents. With a 24-1 record, the team is heading into the postseason as the heavy favorites to win the title.
Thomason said for UTD to have a chance to upset those expectations, the Comets will have to do three things: defend, rebound and maintain possession of the ball.
“If you’re going to play three games in a row, that third game in three games your shots might not be falling. You might have dead legs, you might need to really rely on your defense and your rebounding,” she said. “I feel confident that we can do those things, that we have the foundation. It’s just going to be up to us on if we can do them or not.”
As the team gears up to play in that first game, Thomason said she is unsure of her expectations.
“I just want my team to play hard for 40 minutes and make it a complete game,” she said. “Play each possession one at a time and then play each quarter one at a time. Not have a bad quarter, not have consecutive bad possessions, but really try and put four solid quarters together and let’s see where we’re at at the end of the game. We’ve only been able to do that two or three times this year and we’ve won those games handedly, but it’s the games where we just have one bad quarter that have cost us. … I just need us to play four strong quarters and give ourselves a chance to play.”