UTSA women face two major challenges at home this weekend

By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay

The UTSA women’s basketball team cleared one hurdle last weekend with a Conference USA road victory at Louisiana Tech. Two more major challenges await the Roadrunners at home in the coming days.

Jordyn Jenkins. North Texas beat UTSA 54-51 in Conference USA women's basketball on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Jordyn Jenkins leads the UTSA Roadrunners into a Conference USA home game tonight against the Western Kentucky Lady Toppers. – File photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA is scheduled to host the Western Kentucky Lady Toppers tonight and the 21st-ranked Middle Tennessee State Lady Raiders on Saturday afternoon.

Mired in 10th place in the 11-team C-USA, the Roadrunners (5-15, 3-8) have struggled with consistency.

Nevertheless, a team that has played more than a few freshmen in a rebuilding year has shown signs of turning the corner.

The win at Ruston last weekend was UTSA’s first outside of San Antonio this season.

UTSA junior forward Jordyn Jenkins leads the C-USA in both scoring (20.0) and field goal percentage (48.3). She’s also second in rebounding (7.5) and sixth in blocked shots (1.3).

The Roadrunners seem to be at their best when the ball moves and Jenkins’ teammates are involved in the offense, both of which happened in Ruston against LA Tech.

With Jenkins, Elyssa Coleman and Sidney Love all scoring in double figures, the Roadrunners shot a season-high 50.9 percent from the field. Of their 29 field goals, 18 came on assists, with guard Kyra White passing for seven and Jenkins four.

If they hope to win back-to-back games for the first time this season, they’ll likely need a similarly solid effort tonight.

Coming up

Western Kentucky at UTSA, Thursday, 7 p.m.
Middle Tennessee State at UTSA, Saturday, 2 p.m.

Western Kentucky

The Lady Tops (11-9, 8-3) will arrive in San Antonio in second place in the conference, having won two straight and seven of their last eight. Their streak started at home on Jan. 7 when they rallied for a 77-69 victory over UTSA. Against the Roadrunners, freshman guard Acacia Hayes scored 31 points. She hit 10 of 11 shots from the field.

Last week, they won two close games at home, downing the FIU Panthers 67-63 and the FAU Owls, 66-65. Hayes (10.5 points per game) is a guard that likes to slash and get fouled. Jaylin Foster (9.9, 5.9 rebounds), Hope Sivori (8.6) and Mya Meredith (8.2) are also scoring threats. Western Kentucky leads the conference in both 3-point attempts (567) and 3-point makes (161).

Middle Tennessee State

The Lady Raiders (18-2, 11-0) lead the C-USA standings and have won 16 in a row going into a Thursday night matchup in El Paso against the UTEP Miners. Virginia Commonwealth transfer Kseniya Malashka, a forward, leads the Raiders in both scoring (16.5) and field goal percentage (47.3). Marshall transfer Savannah Wheeler, a guard, averages 16.2 points. Center Anastasiia Boldyreva is a force in the paint with 1.5 blocks.

Middle Tennessee hasn’t lost since Nov. 25 in Las Vegas, to Texas Tech. In their string of 16 victories, 13 have been by double figures, including an 80-41 rout of the Roadrunners on Jan. 5. Boldyreva had 16 points, nine rebounds and four blocks against UTSA. Boldyreva is from Moscow, Russia. Malashka is from Minsk, in Belarus.

UTSA women roll to a 64-50 victory over the Charlotte 49ers

Elyssa Coleman. UTSA beat Charlotte 60-54 in a Conference USA women's basketball game Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA sophomore center Elyssa Coleman stepped up to produce 16 points as the Roadrunners beat the defending C-USA champion Charlotte 49ers. It was UTSA’s first victory over Charlotte since 2014. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Forward Jordyn Jenkins registered another double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds Saturday as the UTSA Roadrunners notched a signature victory, knocking off the defending Conference USA champion Charlotte 49ers, 64-50.

Center Elyssa Coleman added 16 points and eight rebounds for the UTSA women, who snapped out of a three-game losing streak and, in the process, downed the 49ers for the first time since 2014.

The Roadrunners (4-11, 2-4) played a smothering 2-3 zone defense and held the visitors to 31.1 percent shooting. The 49ers (7-8, 3-3) were led by guard Dazia Lawrence, who scored 13 points.

Jordyn Jenkins. UTSA beat Charlotte 60-54 in a Conference USA women's basketball game Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Jordyn Jenkins had 23 points and 11 rebounds to follow her 37-point, 11-rebound outing against UTEP on Wednesday night. – Photo by Joe Alexander

But nobody else hit double figures on the day for the C-USA champs, who were limited to 19 of 61 shooting from the field. The zone also worked to limit the 49ers from getting to the free throw line.

They were only five of eight on free throws, compared to 15 of 16 for UTSA. Roadrunners players expressed both satisfaction and relief that they were able to beat the 49ers, an NCAA tournament entry last year.

“We’ve been trying to get over the hump,” Coleman said. “We’ve been losing every game, like, by less than 10, this whole season. So to beat the last conference champion, that means a lot.”

In 2021-22, Charlotte not only had the best record in the conference, but it also swept through the C-USA tournament to win the postseason crown.

“Today was a good win for us,” said UTSA freshman Madison Cockrell, who scored a career-high nine points off the bench. “It got us back on our feet. So, excited for our next game on Monday.”

The Roadrunners open a three-game road swing at Rice University in Houston on Monday. The trip will also take the team to Florida, where it will play at Florida Atlantic on Thursday and at FIU in Miami on Saturday.

With the victory over Charlotte, UTSA improved to 4-2 at home. At the same time, the team has yet to win away from the Convocation Center.

Madison Cockrell. UTSA beat Charlotte 60-54 in a Conference USA women's basketball game Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Freshman guard Madison Cockrell enjoyed a career-best nine points on three of three shooting from 3-point distance. With her performance, she affected the game in only 14 minutes – Photo by Joe Alexander

In nine games away from the Convo, the Roadrunners are 0-9, which includes an 0-7 record in true road games and 0-2 on neutral courts.

Seemingly every time UTSA plays away from home, the fouls start to stack up, and the opponent gains an upper hand.

It even happens at home, on occasion, as evidenced by Coleman’s showing Wednesday night against the UTEP Miners. The Miners won 74-67, with the 6-foot-3 sophomore on the bench most of the night.

She eventually fouled out with only two points and three rebounds in 18 mintues. Against the 49ers, she picked up two quick ones in the first quarter and sat down for the rest of the half.

In the third quarter, Coleman turned the tables. She scored eight points and drew a couple of fouls on the 49ers, which she converted into four for four at the free-throw line.

“I was in foul trouble in the first half, which I was trying not to do since I fouled out last game,” she said. “But, things happened. I warmed up on the bench, got my time in the second half and then just did what I needed to do.”

Coleman said she knew she had to stay mentally engaged even while she was just watching.

Maya Linton. UTSA beat Charlotte 60-54 in a Conference USA women's basketball game Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Freshman Maya Linton pulled down six rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. The Roadrunners won the battle under the boards, 43-39. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“You can’t just sit at the end of the bench and go sulk,” she said. “You have to still stay engaged, hype up the people on the floor so they can make a difference.”

Fortunately for UTSA, Jenkins caught fire in the second quarter, scoring 13 points on a variety of shots — inside and out.

For the second straight game, she was rolling, and when it was over, she emerged from her week’s work with a combined 60 points and 22 rebounds against both UTEP and Charlotte.

While Jenkins has been putting up all-conference type numbers all season, only recently has Cockrell, a freshman from Dallas Bishop Lynch, started to play well.

Even though she didn’t score against the Miners, she made an impact with her defense, and then against the 49ers, she did it on both ends of the floor.

Against Charlotte, she knocked down three 3-point shots, including two in the second half, when the Roadrunners kicked the lead up to as many as 22 points.

Afterward, she seemed to delight in talking about her teammates.

“We played amazing today,” she said. “Off the court, everyone came in at shootaround with the right mindset. It was just a great day all around.”

Cockrell hinted that attitude might have been the difference between winning and losing against the 49ers. After a disappointing loss against the Miners, players kept their heads up.

“We did,” she said. “We took (the loss to UTEP). It happened. That’s what it was, and we bounced back today and came back a lot better. Stronger. Harder. Everything.”

Records

Charlotte 7-8, 3-3
UTSA 4-11, 2-4

Coming up

UTSA at Rice, Monday, 7 p.m.

Notable

Charlotte has dominated the C-USA series against UTSA ever since the teams started playing in 2014. The Roadrunners won the first meeting in 2014, but the 49ers won the next seven times through last season. Last January, the 49ers romped to a 58-33 victory against the Roadrunners in San Antonio.

Quotable

Talking about employing a zone defense, Aston said, “Realistically, we were just doing everything we could to keep those guards (Dazia Lawrence and Jada McMillian) out of the paint. They are really, really good.”

First half

Three days after scoring 37 points at home against UTEP, forward Jordyn Jenkins exploded for 13 of her 17 points in the second quarter against Charlotte, lifting the Roadrunners into a 34-20 halftime lead.

On one end of the floor, UTSA played 2-3 zone to frustrate Charlotte. The Roadrunners, with the junk defense, held the 49ers to nine points in the second quarter and 27.6 percent shooting for the half.

On the offensive end, UTSA kept going to Jenkins, who hit six of 12 shots from the field and five of five at the free throw line in the half. Sidney Love added seven points on two of five shooting.

UTEP wins 74-67 as UTSA’s Jordyn Jenkins scores 37

Jordyn Jenkins. UTSA women's basketball lost to UTEP 74-67 in Conference USA on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA standout Jordyn Jenkins (at right) drives on UTEP’s Avery Crouse Wednesday night in Conference USA women’s basketball at the Convocation Center. Jenkins finished with 37 points and 11 rebounds. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Forward Elina Arike converted a three-point play and guard Jazion Jackson added a three-point shot in the last two minutes Wednesday night, helping the UTEP Miners hold off the UTSA Roadrunners 74-67 in Conference USA women’s basketball.

In what may have been one of the top individual performances in school history, UTSA forward Jordyn Jenkins scored a career-high 37 points for the Roadrunners, who lost their third straight. Jenkins hit 15 of 22 shots from the field, including three of four from beyond the arc. She also pulled down 11 rebounds.

Sidney Love. UTSA women's basketball lost to UTEP 74-67 in Conference USA on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA freshman guard Sidney Love finished with seven points, six rebounds and five assists. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“She’s a very skilled basketball player,” UTSA coach Karen Aston said. “She puts in the work. This is a player who gets to practice an hour early and does everything she wants to do individually before it’s time for the team, and that’s what really good basketball players do.”

While Jenkins soared to her best performance in her first season at UTSA, the Miners (11-3, 4-1) outplayed the Roadrunners (3-11, 1-4) in several areas.

The visitors had better balance with their scoring, with Jackson notching 19 points to lead four players in double figures. Arike had 15 points, while N’Yae Boyd contributed 12 and Erin Wilson came off the bench to add 11.

Additionally, the Miners shot it well from three-point distance (six of 10), with Jackson drilling all three of her attempts from beyond the stripe. UTEP also showed a good sense of when to drive it and how to get fouled. UTEP went to the line 39 times and made 26.

Other than Jenkins, UTSA didn’t have anyone else in double digit scoring. Hailey Atwood scored eight points, while Kyra White and Sidney Love each scored seven apiece. Running the team at the point guard, White, probably a more natural player on the wing, shot three of 14 from the field.

The Roadrunners were getting open looks at the three-point line, but hit only six of 19. They also struggled to get to the line, making 11 of 16.

Hailey Atwood. UTSA women's basketball lost to UTEP 74-67 in Conference USA on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Guard Hailey Atwood had eight points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal.- Photo by Joe Alexander

Even though UTSA has lost three in a row and six of seven, Aston is not discouraged. She knows it will take time for a team playing two and three freshmen at a time to become a consistent winner.

“I wish we had the first half back,” the coach said. “I didn’t think we shared the ball, and it’s not intentional. It’s just everybody wanting to make a play. We just weren’t patient enough. We were a little bit antsy. Some of that’s youth and being in different roles.

“But I definitely think that every game, we’re growing. We’re playing a lot of young players in a lot of situations. Today, I really thought Maddie (Cockrell) gave us some good minutes off the bench. Lex (Parker) is starting to get comfortable again …

“I mean, those guys just have to learn in the fire. They made some mistakes, that a month from now, if we keep coaching them, they may not be making those same mistakes.”

For Jenkins, an all-Pac 12 player last year at Southern Cal, the game served as another step forward in her burgeoning UTSA career. It was her second game with 30 or more points (she had 35 at Houston on Dec. 19) and her seventh with 20 or more.

“I guess it was bittersweet,” she said. “getting my career high but still losing. I think we made a lot of progress on the court, though. We tend to be a little more immature on the road … not working as well together.

“But I feel at home, I feel like we’ve got a really good connection and a really good bond on the court. It’s nothing really negative when we lose. Yeah, it’s only bitter because we got the ‘L.’ But it’s sweet because everyone played hard and worked hard and talked to each other.”

Notable

Last spring, center Elyssa Coleman had 21 points and 11 rebounds as UTSA upset UTEP 58-57 in the first round of the C-USA tournament. Coming off a case of strep throat that kept her out of practice Tuesday, Coleman finished with two points and three rebounds in the rematch. “I’m really appreciative that she played for her team today,” Aston said.

Records

UTSA 3-11, 1-4
UTEP 11-3, 4-1

Coming up

Charlotte at UTSA, Saturday, 2 p.m.

Jordyn Jenkins. UTSA women's basketball lost to UTEP 74-67 in Conference USA on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Jordyn Jenkins protects the rim and registers one of her three blocked shots. – – Photo by Joe Alexander

Crunch time

With 2:21 remaining, UTSA’s Coleman took it insde and scored to make it a one-point game. But UTEP, leading 63-62, started to make big play after big play to put the game out of reach. First, Arike drove to the bucket, hit a shot and was fouled. Not only did Arike make the free throw, but it was Coleman’s fifth foul, sending her to the bench.

Next, the Roadrunners turned it over on an offensive foul, and on the other end the Miners swung the ball to Jackson on the left wing. Her three-pointer lifted UTEP into a 69-62 lead with 1:02 left. UTSA could get no closer than four the rest of the way.

First half

Guard Erin Wilson came off the bench to score nine points as the Miners surged into a 35-25 lead. The Roadrunners shot 33 percent in the half and, except for Jenkins, failed to establish much on the offensive end. UTSA’s starting backcourt hit only 3 of 15 from the field. Jenkins carried the load with 15 points. The junior transfer from USC hit 6 of 9 shots in the first 20 minutes.

Trailing 17-9 after one quarter, the Roadrunners found a rhythm early in the second. They outscored the Miners 10-2 in the opening minutes to tie the game. With three minutes left in the half, Love scored on a drive, chopping a UTEP lead down to two points. From there, the Miners went on a 10-2 run to the buzzer. Wilson scored seven points in the run including a three from the corner with 1:22 remaining.

JB’s video replay

Lady Techsters veterans pay a visit to test the young Roadrunners

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The three-time national champion Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters, one of the original powers in women’s college basketball, will play in San Antonio tonight against the UTSA Roadrunners.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center.

Led by Jordyn Jenkins, the leading scorer in Conference USA, UTSA (2-7) hopes to start a winning trend in its first C-USA game of the season.

Jenkins averages 20.6 points for the Roadrunners, who are undefeated at 2-0 on the home court and winless in five road games, plus two at neutral sites.

Six of UTSA’s seven losses have come by seven points or less, including a 93-89 loss in overtime at Houston on Dec. 19, the team’s last outing before breaking for Christmas.

In the game at UH, the Roadrunners erased a 21-point deficit with a stirring rally that fell short, as they dropped a 93-89 decision to the Cougars in overtime.

Louisiana Tech (7-4, 0-1) lost its first conference game, falling to the UTEP Miners 62-54 at home on Dec. 18. The Lady Techsters have been off since then.

Picked second in Conference USA, the LA Tech features guard Keiunna Walker and 6-foot-3 forward Anna Larr Roberson. UTSA coach Karen Aston also pointed out assist leader Silvia Nativi as another concern.

UTSA is a young team, with Aston expected to start a freshman point guard in Sidney Love and is likely to use three and perhaps four other first-year players in the rotation.

Love, Alexis Parker, Madison Cockrell and Maya Linton all played in the Houston game. Siena Guttadauro is a talented fifth freshman for UTSA.

Nobody is calling the Roadrunners the Baby Birds yet, but they could. They’ll be tested by the likes of Walker and Roberson, who have combined to play in 213 games at LA Tech. Walker, the preseason Player of the Year in the conference, has played in 120.

Both helped lead LA Tech last season to 21 victories, a trip to the C-USA tournament title game and an appearance in the Women’s NIT.

Notable

LA Tech was one of the storied programs in the women’s game in the 1980s. The Lady Techsters won the 1981 national title in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) and then claimed NCAA championships in 1982 and 1988.

Quotable

“I know that they’re a very developed team,” UTSA’s Kyra White said of Lousiana Tech. “They have a lot of experience. Multiple guards coming back that have been there for a year, multiple years. Very strong post presence down low. And I just know that they’re going to come in to our house ready to compete. So, we just have to match that energy.”

Records

UTSA 2-7, 0-0
LA Tech 7-4, 0-1

Coming up

UAB at UTSA, Saturday at noon.

De Leon Negron rallies the UIW women past UTSA, 56-53

One of the smallest players on the floor stood tall Thursday night at the McDermott Convocation Center.

Five-foot-six Nina De Leon Negron scored 17 of her game-high 25 points in the fourth quarter as University of the Incarnate Word Cardinals erased an eight-point deficit and downed their cross-town rival UTSA Roadrunners, 56-53.

Playing on their home court, the Cardinals trailed by 11 points late in the third quarter and then by a 40-32 score entering the fourth.

At that point, De Leon Negron, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, took control of the game with a relentless string of drives to the basket.

UTSA seemed to have enough to hold off UIW when forward Jordyn Jenkins, who led the Roadrunners with 21 points and 11 rebounds, scored on a left-handed scoop mid-way through the fourth period.

Jenkins’ skillful move to the basket stablized the Roadrunners and boosted them into a 44-37 lead with 6:10 remaining.

De Leon Negron, however, was just getting started.

First she drove to the hoop, scored and completed a three-point play. After a Queen Ulabo turnover on the dribble, UIW came down and De Leon Negron swished a three from the top, cutting the deficit to one.

Jenkins missed, setting up a Chloe Storer layup on the other end as the Cardinals surged into their first lead since the second quarter. Kyra White answered with a drive and a bucket to make it 46-45 for UTSA.

With White converting at the 4:19 mark, it would be the last lead for the Roadrunners. After that, De Leon Negron scored seven points over the next four minutes to put UTSA away.

Trailing by five with seven seconds left, the Roadrunners made it interesting to the final whistle.

After Deb Nwakamma’s long two out of the corner splashed, accounting for the final points of the game, UIW inbounded with one second left. The pass landed in the hands of UTSA’s Jenkins, who was standing outside the three-point line, but couldn’t get off a shot as the buzzer sounded.

It was a frustrating night for UTSA, which remained winless this season on the road (0-4).

The Roadrunners out-rebounded the Cardinals (37-28) and hit four more field goals (21-17) and, somehow, they still managed to lose. Problems centered around UTSA’s perimeter shooting (0-for-10 from three) and free-throw shooting.

While the Roadrunners hit only 11 of 20 from the line, the Cardinals made the most of their opportunities, knocking down 20 of 28.

De Leon hit eight of 14 from the field and one of two from 3-point territory. She put down eight of 12 at the free-throw line.

Records

UTSA 2-6
UIW 4-4

Notable

De Leon Negron has been hot and cold this season. In her last four games, she was held scoreless at TCU, had nine points at Texas Tech, 16 against Division III Schreiner and now a season-high 25 against UTSA.

With the victory, UIW improved to 2-1 against UTSA over the past three seasons. UTSA leads the overall series, 3-2.

UTSA, meanwhile fell to 0-6 away from home this season, including 0-4 on the road. Five of UTSA’s six losses have come by seven points or less.

Forward Elyssa Coleman had a good start to the game, scoring 13 points through three quarters. She was scoreless in the fourth and ended up fouling out.

Coming up

UTSA plays its last non-conference game on Monday at the University of Houston. After that, the Roadrunners have a 10-day break before opening Conference USA play. The Roadrunners play at Louisiana Tech on Dec. 29 and at UAB on Dec. 31.

UIW, coming off an NCAA tournament appearance last season, plays at home on Sunday against Sul Ross. From there, the Cardinals are at SMU on Dec. 21. UIW opens Southland Conference play at Texas A&M-Commerce on Dec. 31.

Taiwo, TCU women turn back the UTSA Roadrunners, 74-67

The TCU women’s basketball team knew it had been in a game Wednesday night after spending 40 minutes on the painted floor at Schollmaier Arena with the UTSA Roadrunners.

Playing at home in Fort Worth, the Horned Frogs held the Roadrunners to four of 15 shooting in the third quarter to take control of the proceedings, en route to a 74-67 victory.

Tomi Taiwo’s fourth 3-pointer of the game with 4:30 remaining in the fourth quarter gave the Frogs a 12-point lead. The Roadrunners never got closer than six the rest of the way.

Saddled with foul trouble early, Jordyn Jenkins led the Roadrunners with 16 points. Elyssa Coleman had 12 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. Off the bench, freshman Siena Guttadauro scored 11 and Deb Nwakamma 10.

Kyra White, playing point guard most of the night for the Roadrunners, had a solid all-around game with eight points, five assists and four rebounds.

Taiwo had 18 points and three steals to lead the Horned Frogs.

All told, it was a solid effort for the Roadrunners, who are two games into their second season under Coach Karen Aston.

The Roadrunners, despite foul trouble, played the Frogs of the Big 12 Conference on even terms in the first half. Guttadauro and Nwakamma each had eight points and a couple of three-pointers off the bench before intermission.

TCU led 23-16 after the first period and, after a competitive second period, held a 37-36 edge on UTSA. Playing better defensively, the Frogs boosted the lead to 54-47 entering the final quarter.

Records

TCU 2-1
UTSA 0-2

Coming up

Abilene Christian at UTSA, Sunday, 2 p.m.

UTSA women picked ninth in preseason C-USA basketball poll

UTSA has been picked to finish ninth in Conference USA women’s basketball, according to the conference’s preseason poll announced Thursday.

Jordyn Jenkins at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Newcomer Jordyn Jenkins leads UTSA into a regular-season opener at Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 7. Jenkins has been named to the preseason all-Conference USA squad. – photo by Joe Alexander

Roadrunners forward Jordyn Jenkins, a transfer from Southern Cal, has been named to the preseason all-conference squad.

According to the poll, which has been released out of the C-USA office, Middle Tennessee State has been picked to win the title, followed by Louisiana Tech and Charlotte.

The projected order of finish is as follows, with first place votes in parentheses and total points:

1. Middle Tennessee (9) 118
2. LA Tech 104
3. Charlotte (2) 95
4. Rice 77
5. North Texas 75
6. WKU 66
7. UAB 58
8. UTEP 43
9. UTSA 36
10. FIU 34
11. Florida Atlantic 20

Preseason Player of the Year

Keiunna Walker, LA Tech

All-Conference

Mikayla Boykin, Charlotte, senior guard
Jada McMillian, Charlotte, senior guard
Anna Larr Roberson, LA Tech, junior forward
Keiunna Walker, LA Tech, senior guard
Kseniya Malashka, Middle Tennessee, redshirt senior forward
Savannah Wheeler, Middle Tennessee, senior guard
Courtney Whitson, Middle Tennessee, senior forward
Quincy Noble, North Texas, senior guard
Ashlee Austin, Rice, senior forward
Jordyn Jenkins, UTSA, junior forward

With Coleman and Jenkins, UTSA frontcourt shows promise

Elyssa Coleman at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sophomore center Elyssa Coleman averaged 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds last season. Coleman produced 21 points and 11 rebounds in a C-USA tournament victory over UTEP. – Photo by Joe Alexander

When the UTSA women’s basketball team first stepped on the floor to work out together this summer, the potential for a dynamic frontcourt presence showed up almost immediately.

Elyssa Coleman, a 6-foot-3 center, moved well in the low post and exhibited the ability to overpower opponents with her back to the basket. Newcomer Jordyn Jenkins, a 6-foot forward, came at the defense from all directions.

Kyra White and Jordyn Jenkins

Kyra White (left) and Jordyn Jenkins transferred from Southern Cal to UTSA in the offseason. White played in high school locally at Judson. Jenkins, from Kent, Wash., received all-Pac 12 honors last season. — Photo by Joe Alexander

She was a shooter. She was a driver, and she could grab an offensive rebound and stick it back with good touch. Remarkably, two players with so much potential, playing for the UTSA Roadrunners?

In a way, it was sort of hard to believe.

The Roadrunners hadn’t had a winning record in women’s basketball in seven years, and yet here they were, practicing in a frontcourt tandem that looked as if it could hang with the best in Conference USA and perhaps against many teams in the nation.

For background, both players started their college careers at high major programs, Coleman at Texas and Jenkins at Southern Cal. Both came to UTSA to play for head coach Karen Aston. Coleman is in her second season with the Roadrunners, while Jenkins is in her first, after joining the team a few months ago.

How good will they be? How will their talents mesh? The answers may be a key to the success of the team this year. Coleman said at a UTSA media session earlier this week that she’s “super excited” about the prospect of playing with Jenkins, an all-Pac 12 talent.

“I think we’re getting there,” Coleman said. “Jordyn plays really, really fast paced, which is what I’m used to. We kind of had to slow it down last year because our team wasn’t there yet. But coach Karen teaches the same fast-paced ball, so I think it’s meshing pretty well.”

In Aston’s offense, Coleman is expected to play at the center position and Jenkins mostly at power forward.

“I think it’s going to be good,” Jenkins said. “She works hard and she’s strong and she’s a dog (as a fierce competitor). I think it’ll be good once we develop some more chemistry and get our passes going. I think we both catch and throw each other good passes. So, once we get our flow going, we should be good.”

Coleman offered a more colorful description about the twosome’s potential.

“That’s a scary, scary sight,” Coleman said. “That’s what I’m going to say. That’s a very scary sight with both of us down low. Not just us, but everybody coming off the bench. But for us, as a duo, that’s very scary. I’m really excited to see what we can do.”

Jenkins averaged 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds last year at Southern Cal before she entered the transfer portal in the spring.

“I just wanted something better for myself,” she said. “I just felt like coming here was going to make me better physically and mentally. There’s a lot of support here and a lot of people care about you. (They) constantly give you high fives, keep you up.

“You know, it’s a tough lifestyle to be a student-athlete and wake up at 6 every day. You’re not going to be up for it every day. Just to have people care about you and ask how you’re doing. That’s really what you need.”

Jenkins’ has known Aston for years.

As a former head coach at Texas, Aston recruited Jenkins out of Kentridge High School in Kent, Wash. But when Jenkins entered the portal last spring, UTSA was just one of the schools in pursuit of her talents.

“I knew I needed to go somewhere, where it wasn’t just about me as a basketball player, that it wasn’t just about my talent,” Jenkins said. “I think in talking to coach Karen when I was in the portal, she was worried about who I was and how I was doing as a person. Because we know the stats. The stats don’t lie. They’re on paper. They’re online.

“But you get a coach that goes all out for you, you know?”

With that, Jenkins did not finish the thought, but her meaning was clear. After making the move, she’s comfortable with her surroundings. At USC, she gained valuable experience, playing in 41 games with 35 starts over two seasons.

Last season, she led the Trojans in both scoring and rebounding. She also hit 51.7 percent from the field — one of the best accuracy marks in the nation — and 82.1 percent from the free-throw line. Coleman, by contrast, had more modest success in her first season on the court in NCAA Division I.

The former standout at Atascocita High School in the Houston area averaged 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds. Coming off a year in which she sat out rehabilitating a knee injury, she started slowly and then picked up the pace last February and March.

In a C-USA tournament game against UTEP, Coleman showed out with 21 points and 11 rebounds. As a result, the Roadrunners upset the Miners 58-57 in overtime and reached the quarterfinals, where they fell to the third-seeded Old Dominion Monarchs, 65-45.

Coleman said she feels good physically right now, ready to go.

“Honestly, I feel like I’m in a good state physically,” she said. “I felt like I was in a good state last year, but it was mostly like a mental thing. I feel like I’m in a good space all the way around right now.”

Coleman committed to the Texas program during Aston’s last season in Austin. For the former prep star, the transition from high school to college was a whirlwind. After signing with the Longhorns, UT elected not to renew Aston’s contract in April 2020. Her new coach, Vic Schaeffer, came on board but she never really got to show the new staff what she could do.

She blew out her knee in a practice that summer, a month into the team’s workouts, all of which led to surgery in August 2020.

“That was Covid time,” she said. “Just got out of the pandemic. Just got into college. It was really scary for me. My support system wasn’t the best there. I grinded, for myself. Then once I got here and I had the people around me — it really does take a village — and I was fine.”

Coleman was traveling with the Longhorns in the 2021 NCAA tournament when something caught her attention. She saw online that Aston had been hired at UTSA.

“Once I was in the transfer portal, it was a no brainer,” she said, noting that she passed on offers from Wake Forest and Arizona State, among others. Last year was a struggle for the Roadrunners. Nobody was happy with a 7-23 record, but Coleman is optimistic about the team’s chances going into her second season.

Coleman said the chemistry is good right now considering eight new players on the roster. “Chemistry?” she asked. “Honestly? With the same timeline as last year, we’re way ahead, chemistry wise. I feel like everybody likes each other. It’s just going to be a matter of playing with each other.

“I feel like everybody is in a good spot with each other. We’re pretty close.”

A long dry spell for the UTSA women’s basketball program could be nearing an end

Kyra White and Jordyn Jenkins

Kyra White (left) and Jordyn Jenkins have started fall workouts with the UTSA Roadrunners after transferring from Southern Cal. White played in high school locally at Judson. Jenkins, from Kent, Wash., received all-Pac 12 honors last season. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Driving cautiously from my home to the UTSA campus one morning last week, gray clouds hung low on the horizon as I splashed through puddles on the road during the first substantial downpour in San Antonio in several months.

Surprisingly enough, when I finally reached my destination at UTSA women’s basketball practice, the precipitation continued. As soon as a spirited five-on-five session began, different players started to rain shots from all over the place.

Coach Karen Aston at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Karen Aston is preaching patience as the Roadrunners to ty mesh six returning players with eight newcomers. – photo by Joe Alexander

Not all of them splashed through the nets.

But one of them, a three out of the corner, was hoisted decisively at the end of a transition play. It snapped the cords. More than a few mid-range jumpers rattled in. A big center displayed solid footwork in advance of banking in a couple from close range.

Granted, this was one practice. It was the one and only practice involving the UTSA women that I’ve seen in more than a year.

But Karen Aston acknowledged in a telephone interview on Friday that she, too, has detected a marked uptick in offensive potential since she revamped the roster for her second season as head coach.

“Definitely, I think we’re going to be able to put the ball in the basket a little more frequently than we could last year,” Aston said. “Again, last year’s team gave me (100 percent). I think we squeezed everything we could out of ‘em.

“I thought they were one of the most enjoyable teams I’ve ever coached. One of the most coachable teams I’ve ever (worked with), but we struggled to score the ball. This team will do that a little bit easier.”

Sidney Love at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sidney Love (center) was the player of the year in the San Antonio area last season at Steele High School. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Could it be that Aston’s rebuild of a historically downtrodden program is moving along at a faster pace than you might expect? Could it be that a drought of seven-straight seasons with losing records might be coming to an end?

It could be. As a team, the Roadrunners are decidedly bigger and more athletic than usual, and they also have more than a few players with offensive ability, which always helps. The coach has 14 players on her team, eight of them newcomers, including heralded Southern Cal transfer Jordyn Jenkins.

The other day, I noticed that Jenkins was hitting shots with regularity from 15 feet and in. Returning center Elyssa Coleman and wing player Queen Ulabo also looked as if they had been in the gym quite a bit this summer.

“Two things are going to help us be better,” Aston said. “The returners seem so much more comfortable right now in who they are and what we expect from them, as opposed to last year, (when) nobody knew. Also, the two kids from USC (Jenkins and Kyra White) are going to come in and give us some experience and maturity from playing at a high level.”

Jenkins, a power forward, and White, a wing player and a former a prep standout at Judson High School, should provide an instant boost to the Roadrunners.

Another local favorite could be Steele High School-ex Sidney Love, last year’s player of the year in the San Antonio area. Love leads a group of three promising freshmen point guards, which also includes Texan Madison Cockrell and Californian Siena Guttadauro.

Queen Ulabo at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Senior Queen Ulabo has assumed a new role, moving from the post to the perimeter. Ulabo is considered one of the most improved returning players on the roster. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“I think the biggest challenge for this group is the point guard situation,” Aston said. “We’ve got young kids. They’re talented, and I love how they compete. (But) they’re all freshmen with the exception of (senior) Deborah (Nwakamma) … They’re going to have their highs and lows.”

Last year, as Aston began the painstaking task of turning around a traditionally downtrodden program, the Roadrunners finished 7-23. They completed the Conference USA regular season at 3-14.

In doing so, they shot a frightful 33.2 percent from the field, which ranked last in the C-USA and 346th out of 348 teams nationally. Based on what I saw the other day, though, this team could be dramatically better on the offensive end.

It’ll all start with Jenkins, an athletic, 6-foot forward from Kent, Wash. Last year, she emerged as an all-Pac 12 Conference performer, while averaging 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds for the Trojans.

Last week, I watched her score about five baskets in a very short period of time during five-on-five work.

“Jordyn Jenkins is really talented,” Aston said. “She can do a lot of things. She’s versatile at the forward position. And in my opinion, if she sticks this thing out, and does the things she’s capable of doing, I think she’s a pro. I think there’s potential (for her) to be a pro. No question about that.”

Returning players who have caught Aston’s eye in terms of individual improvement in their games have been Coleman, Ulabo, Nwakamma and Hailey Atwood.

“They just look so much more confident in themselves and what they’re doing,” Aston said. “Their skills are better. It’s hard for me to pick one of those returners because they’ve all improved a lot. A whole lot.”

How good can the team be?

“Obviously with eight new players it’s going to be a process,” Aston said. “I mean, it’s almost like it was last year, where chemistry will have to be built … Patience is going to be important for us.”

Elyssa Coleman at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sophomore center Elyssa Coleman averaged 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds last season. Coleman produced 21 points and 11 rebounds in a C-USA tournament victory over UTEP. – Photo by Joe Alexander