Defensive Mindset Guides Mean Green Into Saturday's Contest
North Texas And Rice Matchup For The First Time This Season After Overtime Sagas A Season Ago
DENTON — North Texas and Rice only met up twice last season but managed to play 13 quarters combined between the two games. Saturday at 3:00 p.m. in the Super Pit, the Mean Green and the Owls will go at it for the first time since their triple and double overtime games in 2016.
Saturday’s game can be heard live on KNTU 88.1 FM with Mean Green Radio Network’s John Liddle on the call. The game can also be streamed online at CUSA.TV.
North Texas (5-10, 2-2 C-USA) returns to the Super Pit Saturday after nearly coming away with a road trip sweep last week at UAB then Middle Tennessee. A late second half rally by the Blue Raiders in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, spoiled the Mean Green’s plans of sweeping but showed that when North Texas executes its defensive game plan they can hang with any team in Conference USA.
In their four conference games this season, the Mean Green have held the opposing team’s leading scorer to an average of five points below their point per game average.
Saturday, North Texas takes on a Rice (9-6, 0-4 C-USA) team that has stumbled early in conference even though their statistics are above average. The Mean Green will look to stop the Owls’ veteran forward Jasmine Goodwine who is averaging 11.5 points per game this season but 16 a game in conference.
After defeating UAB 59-58 in Birmingham, Alabama, during the week, the Mean Green played one of their best defensive games of the season at the always-tough Middle Tennessee Murphy Center. The Mean Green led at the half and limited the Blue Raiders to a season-low 19 first half points. Furthermore, they kept the then-defending national player of the week, Ty Petty, to zero points through three quarters. But a fatigued North Texas team that had three players play at least 39 minutes, couldn’t hang on in the end as Middle Tennessee captured the lead and scored a large portion of its points at the free throw line.
North Texas’ lone walk-on, sophomore Orianna Shillow, had only played a combined two minutes all of last season before she was inserted in the starting lineup versus Rice on Jan. 30, 2016, at the Super Pit. The then-freshman made the most of her opportunity as she finished the game with a team leading 16 points. Her five made 3-pointers in the game are tied for the 10th most 3-pointers made in a single game in program history. This season, Shillow has continued her hard work during practice and has been rewarded for it with playing time in three games this season, including in the second quarter versus Middle Tennessee.
TY IS LETTING IT FLY
Redshirt sophomore Tyara Warren has become a major part of the Mean Green offense since the start of the conference schedule on Dec. 30. Warren is averaging 10.25 points per game over the last four games. She averaged just 5.5 points per game in the 11 games prior. A key reason to her scoring increase has simply been her taking more shots. Warren is averaging nearly twice as many attempts per game in conference play opposed to non-conference. Saturday, Warren played all 40 minutes versus the Blue Raiders and finished the game with nine points and a career-high five assists.
Starting off games with early leads has been important for the Mean Green. In all five of their wins they led at the end of the first quarter. In Birmingham, Alabama, North Texas jumped out to an eight-point lead on UAB, which they built off of and also used to maintain a lead when they hit a rough patch. Slow starts have been detrimental to the Mean Green as they are 0-8 when they trail after the first quarter. Saturday at Middle Tennessee was the first time this season the Mean Green had trailed after the first quarter and took the lead at halftime. North Texas is averaging four more points per first quarter in conference opposed to non-conference.
MATCHUP AT A GLANCE
North Texas Rice
5-10 (2-2 C-USA) 9-6 (0-4 C-USA)
T-4th in C-USA T-7th in C-USA
60.4 PPG 65.7 PPG
31.5 RPG 38.3 RPG
9.9 APG 15.8 APG
North Texas Rice
PTS: Bradley (12.7) PTS: Rainey (12)
REB: Ellison (5.8) REB: Rainey (4.9)
AST: Criner (3.69) AST: Hawkins (5.2)
North Texas has done a fantastic job this year defending opponents’ guards. Saturday, the Mean Green face one of the conference’s top guards in Shani Rainey. The junior does a lot for the Owls. Disrupting Rainey before the attack will be vital for the Mean Green in forcing turnovers and getting open looks on transition baskets.
Don’t expect Saturday’s game to be a high scoring affair. While Rice is winless in conference, its defense is still one of the best. They've kept conference opponents to just 65.5 points per game — the sixth lowest in conference. However, they’ve yet to score more than 61 points in a conference game. North Texas can’t afford to let junior Shani Rainey and senior Jasmine Goodwine dominate the game as they can lead the Owls to victory and have done so all season.