5 keys to a championship run for UTA women’s basketball in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament

Junior forward Emma Halverson looks to pass the ball during a game against Arkansas State University on Jan. 30 at College Park Center. 

The women’s basketball team (13-6, 11-4) will compete in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament starting at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Hartsell Arena in Pensacola, Florida.

Here are five keys for a Lady Mavericks championship run.

1. Defensive intensity continues

Tenacity from UTA on the defensive end has been the theme throughout the season, with the Lady Mavericks ranking 14th in the NCAA in points per game allowed, giving up 54.1.

The Lady Mavericks currently have the first ranked defense in the Sun Belt Conference, allowing two less points than the next team.

The most points UTA allowed all season was 79 points in a Dec. 8 loss against Stephen F. Austin State University. If UTA wants to win the Sun Belt Tournament, relentless defense will be needed.

2. Continued success with 3-pointers

UTA is coming off their best 3-point shooting series of the season. In both games against Arkansas State University, they shot 40.9% from beyond the arc.

It was not just a one-person effort, as the Lady Mavericks connected on nine 3-pointers in each game. Junior guard Camryn Hawkins scored a season-high 17 points on five made three-pointers in the first game.

In the second game, it was junior guard Katie Ferrell that reached her season high. Ferrell scored 14 points on four of six three-pointers made.

If the Lady Mavericks can carry that three-point shooting into the tournament, a long run could be a possibility.

3. How the new lineup will work in a tournament format

Since the injury to senior guard Jordynn Hernandez and the vacancies from junior center Misty Dossey and junior guard Claire Chastain, head coach Shereka Wright has had to find ways to fill those spots.

The Lady Mavericks were outrebounded in both games by Arkansas State. However, they had 13 steals in the second game, going with a smaller lineup with those three players being unavailable.

A key to being victorious may start with defense and the ability to rebound, but stealing the ball leads to more offensive possessions and opportunities to score.

4. Wickware’s senior run

The battle with senior forward Bre Wickware and junior forward Shyia Smith for the top leading scorer continues to go back and forth. They are separated by just one point, with Smith having 222 total points and Wickware having 221.

Wickware is near the top in many statistical categories. She ranks second in free throw shooting and ranks in the top four on the team in rebounds, assists, blocks and steals.

Since transferring from Indiana in 2018, Wickware has been a consistent contributor in her two seasons at UTA.

5. How UTA handles the unknown of their next opponent

With the sweep of Arkansas State this past weekend, UTA will have a first-round bye and await their opponent in the quarterfinals.

The Lady Mavericks will play the winner of Saturday’s game between Appalachian State University and University of Louisiana-Monroe.

UTA has yet to face Appalachian State this season. However, UTA has won all four of their meetings against the Warhawks by double digits in each game.

@D_Tineo4

@sports-editorshorthorn@uta.edu

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