By Jerry Briggs
Special For The JB Replay
Senior Day for the UTSA women’s basketball team started with a pre-game ceremony honoring Hailey Atwood, Queen Ulabo and Deb Nwakamma, who all were playing for the last time at the Convocation Center.
It ended with even more emotion, with fans standing and cheering, as Jordyn Jenkins set the school record for points in a season en route to the Roadrunners’ third straight victory, an 85-79 win over the FIU Panthers.
Perhaps more significantly from a big-picture standpoint, UTSA took another small step toward respectability as a program, clinching a winning record in the second half of the Conference USA regular season.
With a 6-3 record in the second half, UTSA can do no worse than 6-4 as the regular-season finale at Charlotte looms on March 2. It’s a notable achievement for a group that looked lost at times in November and December.
“Once they got their wheels rolling (today) they looked as energetic and competitive as they did the day they beat Rice, which seems like eons ago,” UTSA coach Karen Aston said.
In her comments, Aston referenced a Feb. 16 home game in which the Roadrunners muscled past the Rice Owls, one of the better teams in the conference, 66-53.
Perhaps not coincidentally, it was the start of a 4-1 stretch for a UTSA team playing perhaps as well as anyone in the C-USA.
Aston, joined by Atwood and Jenkins in the postgame news conference, talked about how everyone played the way she has always wanted them to play.
“I mean, I’m just super proud of their competitive spirit today,” Aston said. “They kicked in, in the second half, and we had so many players make plays.”
Trailing by nine against the Panthers in the second quarter, the Roadrunners started the comeback. They cut it to four at intermission and then came out strong after the break.
Kyra White scored 10 and Jenkins had eight in the third quarter as UTSA took the lead. Siena Guttadauro nailed a three with three seconds left in the period, igniting the crowd and giving UTSA a 68-61 advantage going into the fourth.
The Roadrunners had allowed quite a few leads to slip away late in games during times of uncertainty in November, December and January, but it was not happening against FIU, as UTSA continued to attack on offense.
Jenkins, in particular, seemed intent on slamming the door on the Panthers.
In doing so, she led the Roadrunners with eight points in the final stanza, not only cementing the victory, but also etching her name in the school record books.
Her game-high 33 points boosted her season total to 587, which moved her past the previous record of 583 by 1980s and ’90s-era star Tammy Rogers.
Rogers, a guard, had held the record since the end of the 1990-91 season. When Aston asked for clarification on what record was broken, she was informed that it was the record for points scored in a season and that it was 32 years old.
“Wow,” Aston said. Looking at Jenkins, who was still in her No. 32 jersey, the coach added, “That’s your number.”
At that, Jenkins smiled. “Pretty cool,” she said.
Apparently, only a few people at press row knew that Jenkins was closing in on the record as the fourth quarter started. Jenkins said she had no idea.
“Whenever they announced it in the huddle (late in the game) and people started cheering and Kyra was, like, ‘yea,’ and everyone was like, ‘yea, Jordan,’ I was like, ‘What?’ But, then they told me a little bit after.”
For Atwood, the game was especially meaningful. In two years at UTSA, she has seen some hard times. An injury that slowed her last season. A losing record last year and a poor start to this year, as well.
She said her favorite memory of her last home game at UTSA probably will be the energy of her teammates.
“There were a lot of things we were playing for,” Atwood said. “Not only was the team playing for the seniors, but we were also playing for our 10th win of the season. That was also very important. Our third win in a row. You know, we got two wins in a row last game against FAU and this is the first time this season that we got three games, back to back (to back).
“So, all three of those things were very important for us today, and I think it was very memorable for us. We were down (to FIU) at first, and we just rallied back together. We wanted to win, so I think that was very memorable.”
Aston acknowledged the significance of turning the corner, from a 2-8 record in the first 10 games of the C-USA schedule, to a 6-3 team heading into Charlotte.
“Now we’re playing people for the second time,” she said. “When you take a look back and see … I mean, we look so dramatically different. We look so much more confident and sure, and that’s just part of the process of bringing in eight new (players), and everyone learning a new system. It’s the process of five freshmen growing up.
“It’s process of people accepting roles. I mean, I’m excited. This is one of those kind of situations where you don’t want it to end, because you’re trending upward. (Players) are getting it, just getting it, and you want to play as long as you can play when this starts happening, so I’m excited for the next game.
“I think some light bulbs have really come on for this team, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.”
UTSA 10-18, 8-11
FIU 12-15, 7-11
UTSA at Charlotte, March 2, 5 p.m.
March 8-11, at Frisco
FIU — Mihaela Lazic, 15 points on five triples. Tanajah Hayes, 15 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals. Ajae Yoakum, 10 points, eight rebounds. Kaliah Henderson, 10 points.
UTSA — Jordyn Jenkins, 33 points on 14 of 19 shooting from the field. Kyra White, 22 points on 10 of 16 shooting. Also, five rebounds, six assists, three blocked shots. Hailey Atwood, 13 points on five of 12 shooting, including two triples. Also, three rebounds and two assists. Deb Nwakamma, three points, two rebounds. Queen Ulabo, three points, including one triple.