Women's Basketball Takes Steps Forward In 2015-16
North Texas Made Noise Under First-Year Coach Jalie Mitchell
DENTON -- Mean Green fans knew the challenges that Jalie Mitchell would face when she inked her deal as the eighth coach of the North Texas women's basketball team in April. More surprising, however, was how quickly Mitchell's philosophy and culture permeated through the roster and revitalized a downtrodden Mean Green program.
Emerging from the shadow of a 5-24 record last season, year one under the first-year head coach will go down as an unbridled success for North Texas. The Mean Green finished with a 11-19 record, more than doubling its win total in 2015-16, while showing the type of competitiveness and pride that has since become Mitchell's calling card.
A New Style
Mitchell & Co. reinvigorated a Mean Green offense that had its share of struggles a season ago. Led by a defense-first, up-tempo philosophy, North Texas left little doubt that 2015-16 was a year of progress.
Perhaps the biggest improvement came in field goal percentage, where the Mean Green upped its shooting efficiency by 7.23 percent - the nation's biggest jump - to finish with a 41.7 mark on the year, the sixth-best mark in program history. Going along with those numbers was a 9.5 increase in points per game and a 4.3 increase in assists per game.
One thing is clear - the Mean Green's offensive effectiveness is on the rise.
Full of Firsts
Arguably the biggest victory in North Texas history came with the very first win of 2015-16. Facing off against No. 17/18 Oklahoma on a mid-November evening in Norman, the Mean Green never gave up the lead in a thorough 61-57 decision over the Sooners. It was the program's first win over a ranked team and it notched the first career coaching victory for Mitchell, who was calling the shots in only her second game.
North Texas would pick up 10 other wins throughout the season, but the year of firsts didn't stop in Oklahoma.
The Mean Green took down Conference USA foe Southern Miss for the first time in a senior day matchup on February 27, thanks to a last-second hook shot from senior Acheil Tac, and the team's season culminated in a 79-74 win against Florida Atlantic in the first round of the C-USA tournament that was good for its first postseason win in the league.
Perhaps no player was as pivotal to the North Texas turnaround as Kelsey Criner. Transferring from New Mexico Junior College, the junior showed her ability to impact games on both ends of the court before becoming only the fourth player to lead NT in points, steals and assists. The Dallas native's passing abilities paid dividends in a revitalized offense as Criner finished the season with the second-most single-season assists in program history (149). She would be named to the Conference USA All-Defensive team at the year's end, the first postseason accolade for a NT player in C-USA.
Senior Acheil Tac was a model of efficiency for the Mean Green interior throughout the season. On the year she had 10 double-doubles and was consistently among the league's leaders in rebounding, field goal percentage and free throw efficiency. She ends her North Texas career ranked ninth in career boards (585) and third in all-time field goal percentage (53.6 percent).
Candice Adams was the third player in what became a lethal trio for Mitchell's squad. The team's primary long range threat, Adams cashed in on 49 three-pointers on the season on her way to amassing 99 for a career. With a year of eligibility remaining, Adams is fifth in career makes from deep.
The Mean Green say goodbye to Tac and fellow seniors Kasiney Williams and Teadra Jones. Williams became a regular starter at the season's end, while Jones used her versatility to contribute as both a guard and forward throughout the campaign.
North Texas will return six letter winners and four redshirt athletes that were forced to sit out this season, while three high school players are already committed to play for the Mean Green next year.
With one season under her belt, expect NT's stock to continue its ascent during the Jalie Mitchell era.