By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
One of the hottest summers on record in San Antonio added an extra layer of adversity to offseason training for the UTSA women’s basketball team.
UTSA forward Maya Linton says that the morning workouts, held both indoors and outdoors, were competitive with players split into two teams.
“It was very bittersweet because it was painful at the time — and it was hard,” Linton said. “But if you look back you say, ‘Hey, we really needed that to succeed right now.’ ”
Lately, the proof is in the results.
Playing without their best player, injured forward Jordyn Jenkins, the Roadrunners have opened the season with a 4-2 record leading into Thursday’s 5 p.m. home game against the Texas State Bobcats.
In addition, UTSA is 3-2 on the road in that stretch, matching the team’s road win total for all of last season. At Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, the Roadrunners rallied from a 15-point, third-quarter deficit to win in overtime.
At Sam Houston State, last Saturday afternoon, UTSA fell into another hole, falling behind by 11 at the end of the third period. Kyra White and Sidney Love keyed a 30-point fourth-quarter as the Roadrunners pulled it out, 63-56.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised, by any means,” UTSA coach Karen Aston said. “Obviously, with plugging in new lineups and new players and getting to know how they’re going to react to game situations, it’s been a work in progress and it still is.
“But I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m surprised. I wish that we would get off to better starts and not dig holes like we have in a couple of games. But that’s part of being on the road, I think.”
Aston said in the weeks leading into the season that her players had a chance to experience some growth with Jenkins out of the lineup. As it has turned out, post players such as Elyssa Coleman, Idara Udo and Linton have all stepped up to play significant roles.
“There’s no question that opportunity presents itself all the time,” the coach said. “I say this a lot in basketball, and I guess in life it kind of applies, that windows open and they close. What you do with the opportunity and what you do with your time when a window does open, it’s important.”
While Udo has filled in the gaps in the rotation on the front line, another freshman, guard Aysia Proctor, has emerged to supply some timely offense. Proctor is shooting 61 percent from the field.
“We’ve had some freshmen contribute heavily,” Aston said. “I’ve said this all along that the players that returned have improved in some areas that they needed to. We’re still absolutely a work in progress just because we are really young. When you look at who comes off the bench, it’s pretty much all freshmen and sophomores.”
UTSA’s only two losses have come against Power 5 competition, losing by 15 at Arizona State on opening night and by five at Texas Tech last week. Linton said she is excited about the way the team has performed.
“I think we’re more determined to be a unit this year than we were last year,” she said. “So I feel like winning all these games at the beginning of the season, it’s a different look for us, and we’re excited about our future and to be back at our home.”
Linton, a sophomore from Duncanville, had a big game with 15 points and 10 rebounds in a four-point win at UT Arlington. She scored six points in the final three minutes of the first half just as the Mavs were making a push.
Referencing the comeback wins in Corpus Christi and Huntsville, Linton credited the Roadrunners for staying together even when they aren’t playing well.
“Like I say, I think we have a certain unity,” she said. “We just have a connection. It’s like we never have a feeling that, ‘Oh, this time we’re going to lose.’ It’s always a positive, like we’re going to win, no matter what. I think there’s more of a fight this year, and it definitely shows with our record.”
The UTSA women are off to their fastest start since the fall of 2012 when they were 5-1 after six games. In 2012, all of the early victories were at home, and one of them came against a sub-Division I level program.
UTSA went on to finish 16-14 in 2012-13, in its one and only season in the Western Athletic Conference.
This fall, all six of UTSA’s games have been contested against D-I opponents. Like in 2012, the Roadrunners are set to play this season in a new conference – the American Athletic Conference — after 10 seasons in Conference USA.
Sophomore Sidney Love leads the Roadrunners in scoring at 13.3 points and also leads the AAC in free-throw percentage (87.9).
Senior Kyra White, who ranks second in the AAC in minutes played at 36 per game, is enjoying a standout season by averaging 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds. She’s also averaging 3.7 assists (tied for sixth in the conference) and 1.2 steals.
Junior Elyssa Coleman averages 8.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and a conference-leading 2.3 blocks. Coleman has played six games with six starts in the post, with Linton (6.7 points, 6.2 rebounds) playing six and starting five.
Idara Udo (5.8 points, 7.0 rebounds) and Aysia Proctor (8.0 points, 5.0 rebounds) have emerged as players making a significant impact in their first years out of high school.