DENVER, Colo. (2/2/02) The North Texas women’s basketball team (14-6, 8-2) won its fifth straight game Saturday afternoon, defeating Denver (10-12, 6-4) 81-74 at Magness Arena.
Entering the contest, the Lady Eagles held a one-game advantage over the Pioneers for first place in the West Division of the Sun Belt Conference. Denver was the preseason favorite to win the division and qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season.
Senior forward Jalie Mitchell tallied a game-high 24 points to lead three North Texas players in double-figures scoring, while senior guard Rosalyn Reades narrowly missed a double-double with nine rebounds and nine points. The 5-5 guard also tacked on five assists and four steals in the outing, both game highs.
North Texas never trailed after the five-minute mark of the first half and took a 37-34 lead into the intermission period. Although Denver tied the game twice early in the second half, the Lady Eagles were able to open up their largest lead of the game at 14 points, 62-51, with 4:57 left in the game. However, a resilient Denver squad went on a 17-6 run at that point to close within three points of the Lady Eagles, 74-77, with 47 seconds left in the contest. The Pioneers had the opportunity to pull within one point of North Texas with 29 seconds remaining, but Tasha Jones missed two free throws and UNT’s Vilma Grismanauskaite hauled down the rebound off Jones’ second attempt. Grismanauskaite was immediately fouled and sent to the charity stripe herself, where she knocked down two free throws that gave the Lady Eagles a 79-74 lead and sealed the North Texas victory.
“Denver is a very confident team at home, so I’m very excited about the victory,” said North Texas head coach Tina Slinker. “This is a big win for us. These are the kind of games you can look back on when you are trying to make a run for the NCAA Tournament.”
The Lady Eagles bailed themselves out of a poor shooting performance in the first half by going strong to the boards and hitting 13-of-15 free throw’s. North Texas shot just 28 percent in the first half in comparison to Denver’s .467 percentage. However, the Lady Eagles grabbed 18 offensive rebounds alone while the Pioneer’s pulled down just 17 total boards for the half.
Neither team could grab a dominating lead in a first half that was a back-and-forth battle. Despite losing their leading scorer in guard Nikki Weddle just two minutes into the game, Denver was able to attain a six-point advantage, its largest lead of the game, three different times in the first half. With the score 26-20 in Denver’s favor with 7:59 left in the first half, North Texas used a 15-2 run to grab its largest lead of the half, 35-28, with 1:56 left. Denver scored six of the first half’s final eight points to cut the North Texas lead to just three points at the half.
The Lady Eagles had more rebounds (46-30), more steals (11-9), hit more free throw’s (23-16) and posted a higher shooting percentage (.443-.419) than Denver. The Lady Eagles connected on 23-of-26 free throws, while Denver hit 16-of-23 shots from the charity stripe. Twenty-one of the Lady Eagles 46 rebounds were offensive.
“I thought the way we went to the boards kept us in the game,” said Slinker. “Our offensive rebounds were huge because they got us to the free throw line.”
The Lady Eagles snapped a 12-game home winning streak over conference opponents by Denver. Prior to the Lady Eagles victory, the last Denver loss to a Sun Belt foe at home came against nationally ranked Louisiana Tech on Feb. 26, 2000. The victory completed a North Texas sweep of the Pioneer’s in league action this season. The Lady Eagles also swept two games from UL Lafayette in Sun Belt play this year.
Dating back to last season, North Texas has now won 15 of its last 18 regular season games against Sun Belt Conference foes. The Lady Eagles are also 15-1 in the month of February over the past four seasons.
Ragan Neblett scored 19 points to lead Denver, while Kellie Carwell and Stacey Koralewski both added 10 points.
North Texas will face New Orleans and South Alabama next week in the Lady Eagles final two-road games of the regular season.