By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
The race for the women’s basketball title in the American Athletic Conference has been turned upside down, in a sense, thanks to the efforts of the North Texas Mean Green.
Pegged for a 12th-place finish out of 14 teams in the AAC’s preseason poll, the Mean Green have surged into the lead nearing the halfway point of the regular season.
The UTSA Roadrunners will try to add their own special twist to the narrative when they host the Mean Green on Wednesday night at the Convocation Center.
“They play a lot of people and everyone they have that comes in (the game) has high motor,” UTSA guard Kyra White said Tuesday afternoon. “They defend. They run their offense well. They push it in transition and they rebound. They’re a very tough, competitive team, and we’re going to have to bring it … to compete with them.”
Led by first-year coach Jason Burton and transfer DesiRay Kernal, who has been touted as a conference Player of the Year candidate, the Mean Green (17-3, 7-1) have won seven in a row and have registered a record of 15-2 since Nov. 16.
The Roadrunners (10-9, 4-4) had been pretty hot themselves, winning four straight, including wins over Charlotte and South Florida. But then they stumbled in their last two, both on the road, falling to the UAB Blazers and the SMU Mustangs.
SMU poured it on UTSA late in the game last Saturday afternoon in Dallas, running away for a 78-55 victory.
“Your confidence always wavers a little bit when you lose,” UTSA coach Karen Aston said. “There’s no question about that. It’s higher when you’re winning.
“But I do think we like playing at home … We’ve enjoyed the home crowd. I’d like to think we’re going to show up and compete against a really good team tomorrow.”
UTSA played two of its best games of the season in its last two at at the Convocation Center.
Against Charlotte, on Jan. 14, the Roadrunners went into double overtime and downed the 49ers 81-80 behind freshman Idara Udo and her career-high 26 points and nine rebounds. It was Charlotte’s first conference loss. Two days later, the Roadrunners held the defending regular-season champion South Florida Bulls to 21 percent shooting and romped to a decisive 65-42 victory.
UTSA is undefeated at 3-0 at home in conference this year and 5-2 overall.
North Texas 17-3, 7-1
UTSA 10-9, 4-4
Tulane at UTSA, Sunday, 2 p.m.
UTSA forward Jordyn Jenkins practiced five-on-five, full court, with contact on Tuesday, a sign that she is getting healthier. Jenkins, the 2022-23 Conference USA Player of the Year, didn’t appear to be at full speed but she did play on the scout team. The 6-foot forward hasn’t played in a game yet this season after injuring a knee in the offseason, last April. No decision has been made on whether she will try to play in games this spring.
Former Judson High School standout Kyra White has been on quite a run over the last six games, a stretch in which she has produced 76 points, 52 rebounds and 41 assists.
Freshman Aysia Proctor has emerged as one of the most pleasant surprises of the season for the Roadrunners, averaging 10.1 points on 47.6 percent shooting from the field. The former Clemens High School athlete has notched eight double-figure scoring games, including a season-high 20 at Oregon and 19 at home against South Florida. Proctor scored nine points at UAB and four against SMU …
North Texas hasn’t won a conference title in women’s basketball since 1986, which was also the last time that that it reached the NCAA tournament.
Burton worked for nine seasons at Texas A&M-Commerce before taking the North Texas job. He previously served as an assistant at Texas State. Kernal also played last year in A&M-Commerce’s first season in NCAA Division I as a member of the Southland Conference.
Shooting 54.6 percent from the field, the 6-foot forward is averaging 17 points and 7.9 rebounds with the Mean Green. Six-foot-two Tommisha Lampkin (15 points, 7.2 boards) and guard Jaaucklyn Moore (10 points) are also major players for the Mean Green. Moore once played at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.