UTSA sophomore point guard Sidney Love averages 12.2 points to lead UTSA in scoring. She also shoots 87 percent at the free-throw line to lead the American Athletic Conference. -File photo by Joe Alexander
By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
History beckons for a surprisingly resilient UTSA women’s basketball team preparing to take its first steps on a hardwood court in the American Athletic Conference.
Transitioning to the AAC after 10 seasons in Conference USA, the well-traveled and road-tested Roadrunners (6-5) will carry a winning record into a two-game AAC road swing.
They’ll play Saturday in Philadelphia against the Temple Owls (6-6) and Tuesday in Greenville, N.C., against the East Carolina Pirates (7-3).
Kyra White ranks among UTSA team leaders in scoring (10.6), rebounding (5.5) and assists (4.1).- File photo by Joe Alexander
“I’m excited to start American play,” UTSA coach Karen Aston said Thursday afternoon. “It’s always exciting to get to a place where the stakes are higher … I’m excited to get it started.”
Like UTSA, both Temple and East Carolina are programs that have seen hard times recently and have taken steps to upgrade.
Aston understands the challenge that awaits.
“These road games, you can look at it two different ways,” she said. “I mean, we do start (conference) on the road against experienced teams that have kind of taken their lumps in the American, and now they’re on the other side of it.
“But on the flip side, the good thing about it is, we get these out of the way when we’re not in school. I think that’s a huge factor for us.”
As one of six new women’s basketball programs in the AAC, UTSA is no longer the cupcake on everyone’s NCAA Division I schedule.
In fact, the Roadrunners have six victories against D-I competition and have registered a winning overall record at the Christmas break for the first time in 10 years.
Coming off eight straight losing seasons, the Roadrunners are listed at No. 144 in the NET rankings, which puts them in the top half of programs in Division I.
For the fans, it’s been remarkable to see the dramatic changes under Aston, who is in her third year as coach.
“Like night and day,” UTSA senior Kyleigh McGuire said in a Dec. 13 interview. “When coach Karen came in here, she had a mission, and she recruited people and staff that fit into that plan and would buy in at 100 percent — and never let up.”
Led by guards Sidney Love and Kyra White and center Elyssa Coleman, the team has veteran talent and savvy at those three key positions.
Center Elyssa Coleman has emerged in her junior year as a force inside with 10.3 points per game, all while leading UTSA in rebounding (7.4) and blocks (1.7). – File photo by Joe Alexander
In addition, the Roadrunners also are getting major contributions from two freshmen in guard Aysia Proctor and forward Idara Udo.
Forward Jordyn Jenkins, the Player of the Year in Conference USA last season, hasn’t played yet due to a knee injury. But, her absence from the lineup hasn’t had too much of a negative effect on the team, all things considered.
In four games against Power 5 competition, UTSA came out of it winless at 0-4, but three of the losses were by single digits. Once, the lost by five at Texas Tech. On another day, they lost at home by two to Houston.
Also, road games haven’t bothered them too much. They’re 4-3 record on the road so far. Before Christmas, the Roadrunners took on a daunting challenge with two games in the north west corner of the United States and came out of it with a split.
Despite poor shooting, they were within five points against the Pac-12’s Oregon Ducks with four minutes remaining, couldn’t sustain the momentum and lost by 13. A few days later, playing at Seattle, they jumped out to an early lead, ballooned it to 23 in the second half and eventually downed the Seattle Redhawks, 75-64.
Granted the RedHawks are 1-9, but this time two or three years ago, the Roadrunners weren’t winning many games on the road against anyone.
“It’s always good to win your last game before you go home for the holidays,” Aston said of the victory at Seattle. “It always bodes well for the break and how you feel about taking a few days off. I think the break was much needed for us. We had a lot of travel in nonconference play.
UTSA freshman Aysia Proctor from Clemens High School has supplied scoring (9.4) and rebounding (5.5) off the bench. She also isn’t shy about playing on the road, as she scored 20 points at Oregon. – Photo by Joe Alexander
“I thought we had a chance at Oregon, so it was disappointing we didn’t take advantage of that opportunity. But on the other side of it, when I watched the film, I thought we did some really good things. We just didn’t make shots.”
Rebounding kept UTSA close against Oregon, as it has all season.
“A lot of that was because we didn’t make shots and we had a lot of offensive rebounds,” the coach said. “But, they’re big. They have size. We haven’t seen anything like that. It was a little bit shocking in the beginning, but we adjusted in the second half.
“You know, there’s been a couple of these games that, had we showed up a little better in the first half, we’d have had a chance to win.”
Perhaps most promising for the Roadrunners leading into AAC competition is the play of Proctor and Udo, the two precocious freshmen.
Proctor, a 5-8 guard from San Antonio-area Clemens High School, is averaging 9.4 points and 5.5 rebounds in 22.1 minutes. She has scored in double figures in three straight games, including 19 against Houston and 20 against Oregon.
Against the Ducks, she was the only UTSA player shooting it with authority against a quality opponent, and she also pulled down 11 rebounds in the game.
Udo, a physical 6-1 post player from Plano, is averaging 6.3 points and 6.4 rebounds in 18.7 minutes. Against Seattle, she came off the bench for 19 points and nine rebounds.
“It’s always good to have more people in your rotation,” Aston said. “Those two have established themselves, definitely, in the rotation at this point.”
Aston said she is not surprised at how much the two freshmen have accomplished.
“Honestly, I thought they would contribute to our team,” the coach said. “We recruited players that maybe added something to the table that we didn’t have previously.
“I mean, Aysia can really score the ball, and she’s learning in all the other areas of the game. But the flat-out truth is, she can score the basketball. And we need somebody who can score it, and she adds that, and I thought she would.”
In many ways, both Proctor and Udo have softened the blow for the team in trying to make up for the loss of Jenkins.
Proctor has stepped in to establish herself as an offensive threat, a 50.5 percent shooter from the field, while Udo has held her own as a defender-rebounder who can also score.
Idara Udo had a key blocked shot with 7 seconds left as UTSA beat New Mexico State 58-55 on Nov. 10. – Filer photo by Joe Alexander
Aston lauded Udo’s work ethic.
“She’s taken advantage of the opportunity, and she has made the absolute most of it every single day,” the coach said. “What she does in the games is based on what she does every day in practice. I think that bodes well for her career.
“Anytime a player comes to play in practice every day, you can’t help but play ’em (in games).”
During UTSA’s game at Seattle on Dec. 19, an ESPN broadcaster described Jordyn Jenkins‘ playing status as “day to day.” Asked after practice on Thursday if anything was new on UTSA’s 20 points per-game scorer from last season, Aston declined comment. The coach has said previously that UTSA doesn’t want to rush anything in her rehabilitation. Jenkins, who has been described as a player with pro potential, injured her right knee in April.
Sidney Love 12.2
Kyra White 10.6
Elyssa Coleman 10.3
Aysia Proctor 9.4
Field goal percentage
Aysia Proctor 50.5
Elyssa Coleman 44.0
Idara Udo 43.3
(35 or more attempts)
Siena Guttadauro 33.3
Kyra White 30.0
Sidney Love 24.0
(21 or more attempts)
Sidney Love 87.0
Kyra White 64.7
Maya Linton 63.0
(17 or more attempts)
Elyssa Coleman 7.4
Idara Udo 6.4
Aysia Proctor 5.5
Kyra White 5.3
Kyra White 46
Sidney Love 33
Sidney Love 17
Maya Linton 15
Kyra White 10
Elyssa Coleman 19
Kyra White 15
Idara Udo 12
Karen Aston’s UTSA Roadrunners will play the Temple Owls Saturday in Philadelphia in the program’s inaugural game in the American Athletic Conference. – File photo by Joe Alexander