Aston says freshman Sidney Love is in the mix to start at point guard for UTSA

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

Sidney Love was the player of the year in the San Antonio area last season at Cibolo Steele High School. She averaged 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists as a senior. – Photo by Joe Alexander

As Karen Aston moves into her second season as head coach in charge of the UTSA women’s basketball program, a compelling narrative has emerged during early practices for the Roadrunners.

A freshman could lead them.

Aston said Tuesday that freshman Sidney Love from Cibolo Steele High School is in the running to start at point guard.

Love is battling in early fall semester practices with senior Deborah Nwakamma, as well as with freshmen Madison Cockrell and Siena Guttadauro.

“I think right now Sid is the person that we’re going to lean on the most at that position,” Aston said. “I think Deb can play it also. Deb is probably more calm at that position right now and knows more what’s going on. But I would love to play her at the two.

“We just got to let Sid take her lumps and grow and learn the position. She’s doing a good job. I think she’ll get there.”

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

UTSA women rally past UAB, 68-60, in overtime

The UTSA women’s basketball program celebrated New Year’s Day on Saturday with a comeback victory over the UAB Blazers.

Trailing by 10 points with seven minutes left in regulation, the Roadrunners rallied to win 68-60 in overtime at the Convocation Center.

The Blazers, at one point, appeared well on their way to victory when Lindsey Dullard sank a 3-pointer for a 45-35 lead with 7:06 left in the fourth period.

From there, the Roadrunners staged a dramatic rally, outscoring the Blazers 18-8 down the stretch to send the game into overtime.

A follow shot by UTSA’s Elena Blanding with 56 seconds remaining tied it, 53-53.

Relying on defense, the Roadrunners stopped UAB from scoring twice down the stretch and nearly won at the end, only to have Leslie Hunter misfire on a three at the buzzer.

In overtime, UTSA rode the shooting of Jadyn Pimentel and Charlene Mass to a five-point lead.

Undeterred, UAB came from behind, pulling to within 62-60 on a Margaret Whitley three with 29 seconds left.

UTSA steadied itself by scoring the game’s last six points, as Pimentel, Chantel Govan and Hailey Atwood sank a pair of free throws each to clinch it.

It was a signature win for the Roadrunners and the first for Coach Karen Aston at UTSA in a C-USA contest.

Records

UAB 8-5, 1-1
UTSA 4-9, 1-1

Individuals

UAB: Zakyia Weathersby 14 points, Margaret Whitley (13), Lindsey Dullard (10). Weathersby, 16 rebounds.

UTSA: Jadyn Pimentel, 21 points, LaPraisjah Johnson (16), Chantel Govan (11). Johnson, 11 rebounds, including six offensive.

Coach Karen Aston secures her first victory at UTSA

Karen Aston won her first game as coach of the UTSA Roadrunners Sunday afternoon at the Convocation Center, and all she could talk about afterward was what the victory meant for her players.

“I don’t have any personal satisfaction,” she said. “This is about them.”

Building an eight-point lead at halftime and a 10-point spread after three quarters, UTSA held on down the stretch to knock off the UIW Cardinals, 66-60.

It’s been almost a calendar year since the UTSA women last won a game, so that was what was most meaningful to Aston, a former coach at Texas.

“It’s huge,” Aston said. “It’s huge for them. This is a business where you go to practice every day and … (you) try to do the right thing. You want them to get the rewards for that, and they don’t always come. So when you do get them, you want to celebrate.”

Freshman center Elyssa Coleman, a transfer from Texas who is coming off two knee surgeries, led the Roadrunners with 14 points and 12 rebounds. The 6-foot-3 post hit 6 of 10 shots from the field

Another transfer, LaPraisjah Johnson, added 14 points and hit several key free throws in the final few minutes. San Antonio’s Charlene Mass had 14 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds.

The Roadrunners had not won a game since last Dec. 15, at home, against Northwestern State, La., and Mass, a junior from Veterans Memorial High School in the Judson school district, admitted that it feels good to end the drought.

“It’s just the epitome of what we want to do for this program,” she said. “We’re just going to continue to work hard, stay humble and grind.”

For the Cardinals, guard Destiny Jenkins put on a show with some long-range shooting. Jenkins knocked down five 3-point baskets, including a few of them off the glass, in scoring 21 points.

Records

UIW 1-3
UTSA 1-3

Coming up

Nov. 28 — at Minnesota

UTSA’s Aston senses her players’ eagerness to learn

First-year UTSA women’s basketball coach Karen Aston runs practice Monday at the Convocation Center. — Photo by Jerry Briggs

Tasked with building a winner out of a program that hasn’t had so much as a winning season in seven years, Karen Aston likes the vibe and the mood around her first team at UTSA.

“We have a long way to go,” Aston said Monday. “New players, new system. Lots of new terminology, so it’s kind of a grind most days.

“We’re in long hours now. We’re trying to get the most out of our four-hour days.

“They’re trying to learn not only … the philosophy and the system, but just (how) to put yourself kind of past what you think you are capable of doing.

“It’s a little bit of a grind. But they’re excited, I think, to learn, and they’re excited about the potential.”

Karen Aston at a glance

Announced on March 29 as UTSA’s 10th head coach in women’s basketball
Agreed to a six-year contract
Has forged a career record of 285-146 (.661)
Coached at Texas from 2012-2020 and went 184-83 (.689)
Led the Longhorns to six NCAA tournaments, including three Sweet 16s and an Elite 8

Coming up

Season opener is Nov. 9 at home against Stephen F. Austin. Tip off at 5 p.m.

Strong staff

Associate head coach Jamie Carey played for Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt (and Aston, then a UT assistant) and led the Longhorns to the 2003 NCAA Final Four.

UTSA associate head coach Jamie Carey surveys the action on the floor at Monday’s practice. — Photo by Jerry Briggs

Carey also played four years in the WNBA. Has served as an assistant at Colorado (2014-16), UT (2016-20) and North Texas (last year).

Recruiting coordinator Empress Davenport played four years for Aston at Texas, including the 31-win, Elite Eight team in 2016. Served the past three years as recruiting coordinator at Lamar.

Also, the staff includes assistant coach Cameron Miles and Lauren Fruits, the director of basketball operations.

“This is a real high-level staff,” Aston said. “I mean, really high level. They have been around the block a few times. They’ve been with me. Empress played for me. Jamie coached for me and played with me at Texas when I was an assistant. Coach Miles, he’s known me for years.

Empress Davenport played for Karen Aston at Texas when the Longhorns reached the Elite Eight in 2016. — Photo by Jerry Briggs

“They’re high level because of the way they approach every day. I mean, not only are they good basketball coaches and have high IQs … they know how to teach the game.

“They’re also invested. They’re completely invested in UTSA. They’re completely invested in our players, getting better every day, as people and as basketball players.”

An epic challenge

Turning around the UTSA women’s basketball program will not be easy.

The Roadrunners bottomed out with records of 9-21, 7-21, 6-23 and 2-18 in the past four years, respectively. In the past three seasons, the Roadrunners’ record in Conference USA is a combined 4-44, including 0-14 last season.

Eight players return, including regulars Kyleigh McGuire, Yuliyana Valcheva, Charlene Mass and Emilie Baek. Also, Elena Blanding, Ceyenne Mass, Kennedy Harrell and Shannan Mitchell.

The most experienced of the newcomers are guards Jadyn Pimentel and LaPraisjah Johnson. Others are Elyssa Coleman, Hailey Atwood, Queen Ulabo, Deborah Nwakamma, Ndeye Ciss and Shantel Govan.

McGuire said she likes the energy shown by the team thus far.

“The energy has been great,” she said. “Before actually getting in the gym with everybody, knowing that we have so many new people, that could be nerve-wracking, with the new coaches. I was nervous. But getting in here with these guys, I could tell that they really love the game, and they’re passionate about it.”

On Monday, Aston on several occasions would stop the action on the floor, asking players to stick with what the staff has been teaching. McGuire said it’s a different atmosphere with the new coaches around.

“I think it’s a lot different than last year,” she said. “They’re very particular when it comes to the small details. I think it really pushes us to try to be perfectionists. At the same time, they understand that we can make mistakes, so they’re very understanding, but they want to help us get better.

“They’re very encouraging. They want to see us succeed.”

Karen Aston named UTSA women’s basketball coach

Karen Aston, the 2017 Big 12 Coach of the Year and a finalist for Naismith National Coach of the Year honors, on Monday was named the 10th women’s basketball head coach in UTSA history.

Aston has a career record of 285-146 (.661) with stops at Charlotte, North Texas and Texas. In her 13 seasons as a head coach, Aston’s teams have averaged 22 wins per year and have made a combined 10 postseason appearances.