Previewing UMHB women’s basketball’s New Year’s weekend home games presented by The Best of Belton
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vs. Piedmont: Date/Time: Dec. 29, 3:30 p.m.
vs. UC Santa Cruz: Date/Time: Jan. 2, 2:00 p.m.
Place: Mayborn Center, Belton, Texas
Head Coach: Jamie Purdy (18th season)
Conference: Collegiate Conference of the South (CCS)
Overall Record: 5-3
Conference Record: 1-0
Leading scorer: Nakiyah Washington (19.4 PPG)
Season summary: Piedmont opened the year with 3 straight wins, before taking a pair of losses in late November. They enter Thursday’s duel with UMHB having won two of their last three, including a thrilling 88-87 win over Belhaven on Dec. 12. Perhaps the Lions’ most impressive showing of the year came on Dec. 4, when they took 11th-ranked Tufts down to the wire, falling by a single point, 79-78.
#18 UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs
Head Coach: Todd Kent (12th season)
Conference: Coast-to-Coast (C2C)
Overall Record: 10-2
Conference Record: 0-0
Leading scorer: Ashley Kowack (15.3 PPG)
Season Summary: UCSC is off to its best start in program history, having been ranked in the D3hoops.com Top 25 since Week 1. Their lone D-III loss came to #21 UW-Whitewater on Dec. 20 by the slimmest of margins, 61-60, and they have benefited from returning their entire starting five from last season. With six seniors, the experience within the team has paid great dividends through the first half of the year.
#16 UMHB Crusaders
Head Coach: Mark Morefield (8th season)
Conference: American Southwest
Overall Record: 7-3
Conference Record: 4-1
Leading scorer: Arieona Rosborough (12.3 PPG)
Season summary: UMHB opened the year with a 5-0 start that included wins over Emory and Schreiner, but struggled at ETBU, and dropped its first game of the season. After going 2-0 in ASC play two weeks ago, the Cru stumbled in San Antonio, falling to both Trinity and Puget Sound, each by single digits.
Looking for a bounce back
The Crusaders are seeking to rebound from two challenging losses in San Antonio to No. 4 Trinity (TX) and No. 20 Puget Sound on Dec. 19 and 20, which dropped them to 7-3 overall. Neither came by significant margins-Puget Sound in fact, won on a shot within the game’s final second-but both were frustrating results that UMHB will be looking to avenge on its home court.
“We’re going to have to grow up a little bit,” Morefield said following the loss to Puget Sound. “We are going to have to come back with renewed vigor. We can say 20 different things right now, but when the day is over, you have to go out and execute. You have to have a transfer of learning. We’re too talented to not be able to do those things.”
Key to the week: Start strong
In both the Sul Ross State win and the Trinity loss, UMHB struggled out of the gate, scoring just four points against SRSU and only seven against Trinity in the first quarters of those contests. It will be critical that the Cru finds a way to generate an offensive rhythm early in these games, if nothing else, to improve the team’s overall confidence. If the shots fall sooner than they did in those previously-mentioned games, a wide margin of victory could be in store.
These matchups the first time UMHB has battled either Piedmont or UC Santa Cruz, making it the fourth time this season that the Crusaders have played an opponent for the first time in program history. Originally, the games were scheduled for Thursday and Friday, but a delay in scheduling forced the contest against UCSC to be moved back three days.
Drawing talent from in-state
One characteristic that UMHB has in common with both of its opponents is the percentage of the roster made up by in-state players, a sign of the recruiting approach from all three programs and the talent found within the university’s home state. Every player on UMHB’s roster with the exceptions of Alli Stilp (Oregon) and Jayden Widener (Nebraska) hail from the Lone Star State. 17 of Piedmont’s 18 are Georgia natives, with Kyriaki Taylor, from the nation of Cyprus, being the lone exception. 100 percent of UCSC’s roster calls California home.
All three of the head coaches involved in these two contests share one similar trait in that each has been at his/her respective program for at least the last eight years. In that time frame, all three have eclipsed the 150 wins.
The battle on the boards
Rebounding should play a pivotal role in the outcome of the Top 25 showdown between UMHB and UCSC on Monday, considering both squads have been fairly consistent on the boards throughout the year, and have the playmakers to pull down offensive rebounds, giving their team second-chance scoring opportunities.
All-American Kaylee Murphy averages 10.8 rebounds per game for the Banana Slugs, which is No. 2 amongst players from Top 25 teams. UMHB’s top rebounder is Ashley Faux (6.7 reb/game), but the Cru’s strength has been solid rebounding amongst the entire team. Seven players average above three rebounds per game, and UMHB leads the ASC in offensive boards, at 18.4 per contest.