Assistant Coach Blair Seeks Win in Return to SMU
Team Confident After Nine Days to Prepare for Mustangs
DALLAS — For a Mean Green women's basketball squad that is hungry and eager for its first win of the season, perhaps a trip down to a rival's home gym will do the trick. North Texas will try to do just that December 3 when the team heads to Dallas for a 7 p.m. tip off against the SMU Mustangs.
For second-year assistant coach Karen Blair, it would be just as appropriate to get a victory in her old stomping grounds of Moody Coliseum. Blair was a four-year letterwinner at SMU from 1996-99, then worked on the Mustangs' staff for 10 seasons.
This will be the first time for her walking into Moody in opposing colors.
"I think it will be a little emotional, going back to a place where I spent 14 years of my life," she reflected. "But I'll see a lot of familiar faces, fans and coaches, so I'm really looking forward to it."
SMU (3-3) is led by head coach Rhonda Rompola, who is in her 24th season in charge of the Mustangs. To put into perspective the longevity of the coaching staff's tenure, Rompola, along with assistant coaches Lisa Dark and Deneen Parker, have all been at the school throughout Blair’s playing and coaching career there.
When asked about a comparison between Rompola and North Texas' Mike Petersen, a very accomplished head coach in his own right (with 336 career victories), Blair found more similarities than differences.
"They're very detail-oriented and they prepare meticulously for games. That's something I appreciate for both of them; there's never anything too small to be prepared for," she said, before pausing to let out a chuckle. "When it comes to game day on the sidelines, I think they're both very... intense."
It is sure to be an intense game against an SMU team that starts three players who are 6-foot or taller. Two of those being freshman forwards, twins Alicia and Keely Froling from Queensland, Australia. But it is redshirt junior forward Destynee Hives-McCray who leads the Mustangs in rebounding, with 10 per game.
Overall, SMU has a plus-12.5 margin on the glass in six games so far this season, and averages 15.5 offensive boards per contest.
"They're a great offensive rebounding team, they're just pounding the glass right now,” Petersen analyzed. “They will try to really, really rebound the ball, so we've gotta control the glass."
Following a tough, 59-57 overtime loss November 23 to Eastern Illinois, the Mean Green has had nine days to prepare for the Mustangs, and Petersen says they have used that time wisely.
"We were able to use the first few days of the break just strictly on us," he explained. "We've really defended well, but we've struggled to score. Some of that is at the free throw line, some of that is making open shots and some of that is execution. So we focused on those three areas and tried to clean that up."
Some good news for North Texas is that senior forward Joh'Vonna Darrington will return from an injury that caused her to miss the last two games, so a full squad will be on the court Wednesday night. As usual, the Mean Green is led by senior Briesha Wynn, who leads the team with 13.8 points and nine rebounds per game. Wynn is coming off a monster performance of 19 points, 13 rebounds four assists and three steals against Eastern Illinois.
This team is ready to put one in the win column, and to capture that elusive first victory at SMU would mean an awful lot, especially for Blair.
"Right now, we need that 'W;' it doesn’t matter if it's SMU or whoever," she continued. "But for me to be able to get back in Moody and walk out of there winner, it would be very personally and professionally satisfying."