By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
Veteran UTSA Roadrunners women’s basketball coach Karen Aston knew that her counterpart, University of North Texas coach Jalie Mitchell, would have her team prepared coming into San Antonio.
Aston was right.
One of Aston’s closest allies in the profession, Mitchell devised a defensive plan that her players executed well for four quarters in a 54-51 Conference USA victory.
“I have a lot of love and respect for Jalie,” Aston said.
Twenty five years ago, Aston, then an assistant at North Texas, recruited Mitchell to play for the Mean Green.
Mitchell accepted the offer but never got to play under a coaching staff that included Aston, who left Denton in 1998 to take an assistant’s job with the Texas Longhorns.
As it turned out, Mitchell did well as a player, playing four years for a program that went 77-39, including 42-4 at home.
The Mean Green made back-to-back appearances to the WNIT in 2001 and 2002, and in that last season, Mitchell was honored as Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year.
Five years later, she was inducted into the North Texas Athletic Hall of Fame, along with former teammate Rosalyn Reades. Transitioning into coaching, Mitchell later worked on staffs led by Aston at both North Texas and Texas.
“She’s had an unbelievable career at North Texas,” Aston said. “She’s a dear friend, but she’s a competitor. There’s a reason why her jersey is up in the rafters up at North Texas, because of how competitive she is.
“Once the ball is tipped, you kind of forget about all that. But I’m proud of her. I’m really, really proud of what she’s been able to do there. She went to the (WNIT as coach) last year. She’s one of our own.”
Mitchell, in her eighth season as head coach at her alma mater, acknowledged that it’s always poignant to coach against someone she has known and admired for decades.
“She’s my mentor and has been for a very long time,” said Mitchell, who played in high school at Duncanville. “As you say, she recruited me (to college). We’ve had a relationship for over 20 years. She’s a great coach, and I learned a ton from her.
“Just about everything I know, I learned from Karen Aston.”
The latest game coached by Mitchell and Aston went down to the final few possessions. North Texas guard Quincy Noble sank a driving layup with 1:30 remaining, and the Mean Green held on in the final minute to stop a skid that included four losses in their last six games.
In all, Noble scored 16 points to lead the Mean Green (7-13, 4-6),while Tommisha Lampkin came up big at the end, scoring six points on three buckets in the paint over the last five minutes.
Trailing by the eventual final score, UTSA (4-15, 2-8) had a chance to tie on its last possession but couldn’t get off a three-point attempt.
“We wanted to make sure they couldn’t get a three off, which, I thought we defended really well,” Mitchell said. “They put it on the floor for the drive and obviously you don’t want to foul in that situation and give up an and-one. I’m thankful we did not.”
The Roadrunners never were able to get any type of rhythm going against a variety of looks that the Mean Green presented defensively.
With players packed inside, UTSA didn’t have much success early going to forward Jordyn Jenkins, though the UTSA junior did come alive in the middle quarters and finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds. Jenkins was strong at the end, finishing the fourth period with 12 points and six boards.
Overall, UTSA’s all-conference candidate hit seven of 16 shots from the field and 12 of 13 at the free-throw line.
Other than Jenkins, Elyssa Coleman and Kyra White scored six apiece, and that was about it. Faced with a full-court press part of the time, the Roadrunners turned it over 25 times and shot 30.2 percent from the field.
White and Sidney Love, two starters in the backcourt, were a combined three of 22 from the field. Even though the Roadrunners hit a couple of triples in the fourth quarter to make it interesting, they finished three of 16 from beyond the arc.
“Our slow start, I don’t know that I have an explanation for it,” Aston said. “I thought we seemed really ready to play in the locker room. Maybe not being able to score a couple of buckets early, we let the ball not going in dictate our demeanor and how hard we play, and that just can’t be the case.”
North Texas led 15-7, 25-21 and 39-32 after each of the first three quarters. The Mean Green’s biggest lead was 10 points with 9:41 left in the fourth quarter.
First half analysis
Jordyn Jenkins led a 12-4 run in the first eight minutes of the second quarter, helping the Roadrunners get back into the game. When Jenkins sank a driving layup with 3:36 left in the half, UTSA pulled into a 19-19 tie with North Texas.
At that point, the Mean Green pushed back. Consecutive baskets by Kendall McGruder and Jaaucklyn Moore allowed North Texas to fend off the home team. Later, with 1:15 remaining, freshman Ereauna Hardaway nailed a pull-up jumper in the paint.
As a result, North Texas carried a 25-21 lead into the third quarter.
UTSA finished the half shooting 9 of 29 from the field, including zero for eight from three-point distance. The Roadrunners also committed 13 turnovers, some of them forced in the back court against pressure or at the end of disjointed journeys to advance the ball.
North Texas 7-13, 4-6
UTSA 4-15, 2-8
UTSA at Louisiana Tech, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Western Kentucky at UTSA, Feb. 4, 7 p.m.
Middle Tennessee at UTSA, Feb. 6, 2 p.m.
— UTSA Women’s Basketball (@UTSAWBB) January 27, 2023
— UTSA Women’s Basketball (@UTSAWBB) January 27, 2023