Sun Belt Conference Women's Basketball news and notes

From the Sun Belt Conference

Around the Sun Belt Conference

The preseason predictions for Sun Belt Conference women's basketball, at least according to the league's head coaches, should look familiar.

Middle Tennessee and UALR were picked to repeat as Sun Belt East and West division champions, respectively, and FIU's Jerica Coley was named SBC preseason player of the year after earning the league's top honor last season.

A season ago the conference had two NCAA tournament teams (UALR and MTSU) and two squads in the WNIT (FIU and Florida Atlantic). UALR beat MTSU in the Sun Belt tournament final.

"The Sun Belt Conference is tough as it always is with UALR, Arkansas State and you can go right down the line with South Alabama, FIU, ourselves, WKU and North Texas," MTSU coach Rick Insell said. "It's going to be another tough year inside the conference.

MTSU (26-7) received 10 of 11 first-place votes to win the East after posting a 16-0 mark in conference play last season and advancing to the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year.

Ten letterwinners, including all five starters, return for the Blue Raiders. Junior forward Ebony Rowe (16.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg), senior guard Korti Jones (16.8 ppg, 115 made 3s) and senior forward Icelyn Elie (13.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg) made the preseason all-conference first team.

FIU (23-11) earned the other first-place vote in the East with four starters back. Coley, a junior guard, propelled the Panthers to the postseason by leading the Sun Belt in scoring (23.4 ppg) and blocks (1.9 bpg).

South Alabama (17-13) returns two starters in senior guards Mansa El (12.1 ppg, 2.1 apg) and Mary Nixon (7.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg). El was a preseason second-team all-conference pick. Nixon is on the preseason All-SBC third team.

FAU (17-13), Western Kentucky (9-21) and Troy (2-26) all have new coaches.

Coming off a third straight NCAA tournament appearance, UALR (20-13) earned 10 of 11 first-place votes in the West. The Trojans, who return three starters and seven letterwinners, have won back-to-back Sun Belt tournament championships and five straight West Division titles.

The other first-place vote in the West went to Arkansas State (12-18). Junior forward Jane Morrill (16.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is one of four returning starters for the Red Wolves.

North Texas (15-16) is under the direction of first-year coach Mike Peterson, who led Wake Forest to the postseason in three of the past four seasons. Three starters return for a Mean Green squad that had one of the nation's best turnarounds last season.

ULM (9-21) lost last season's top two scorers and rebounders, but junior guard Jasmine Shaw (7.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg) is on the preseason all-conference third team.

Louisiana-Lafayette (7-23) hired alumnus Garry Brodhead in the offseason after he spent five seasons as associate head coach at two-time defending Southland Conference champion McNeese State.

Upcoming Games

Nov. 9            Arkansas State at Toledo                                                11:00 AM

Nov. 9            (1) Kennesaw St. at Middle Tennessee                    5:15 PM

Nov. 9            Western Kentucky at Murray State                            5:15 PM

Nov. 9            Louisiana-Monroe at Stephen F. Austin                   6:00 PM

Nov. 9            Louisiana-Lafayette at Southern                                  7:00 PM

Nov. 9            South Alabama at Houston Baptist                             7:05 PM

Nov. 9            Florida Atlantic at Georgia Southern                          7:30 PM

Nov. 11          Troy at Winthrop                                                                1:00 PM

Nov. 11          (1) Memphis/Grambling at Middle Tennessee                   2:00 PM

Nov. 11          North Fla. at FIU                                                                 5:00 PM

Nov. 12          Texas State at North Texas                                            7:00 PM

Nov. 12          LSU-Shreveport at Louisiana-Lafayette                    7:00 PM

Nov. 12          Tulane at Louisiana-Monroe                                          7:00 PM

Nov. 12          UALR at Tulsa                                                                       7:00 PM

Nov. 12          TN State at South Alabama                                            7:05 PM

Nov. 12          Arkansas State at UT Martin                                          7:05 PM

Nov. 14          FIU at Florida Gulf Coast                                                  6:05 PM

Nov. 14          Mercer at Troy                                                                    7:00 PM

Nov. 15          North Texas at SMU                                                          7:00 PM

Nov. 15          Missouri St. at UALR                                                          7:00 PM

Nov. 15          Wichita St. at Arkansas State                                         7:05 PM

Nov. 16          Florida Atlantic at Bethune-Cookman                        4:30 PM

Nov. 16          Louisiana-Monroe at Nicholls St.                                 6:30 PM

Nov. 16          Louisiana-Lafayette at Nebraska-Omaha                 7:00 PM

Nov. 16          Southern Miss at South Alabama                                7:05 PM

Nov. 17          (2) Northern Kentucky at Western Kentucky                     5:30 PM

Nov. 18          Jacksonville at Florida Atlantic                                       1:00 PM

Nov. 18          Furman at Troy                                                                    2:00 PM

Team News and Notes

UALR Trojans

UALR looks to make the postseason for the sixth-straight season when it begins the 2012-2013 campaign on Monday (Nov. 12) against Tulsa in Oklahoma. UALR is 12-11 all time is season openers, including 6-3 during Joe Foley's tenure at the helm of the Trojans. UALR will return its leading scorer and 2011-2012 Sun Belt Freshmen of the Year, sophomore guard Taylor Gault. Gault finished the season with the sixth-best overall, and tops among freshman, in points per game in the Sun Belt Conference with an average of 16.0. The mark was the most by a freshman in school history. The Trojans also return junior guard Taylor Ford and senior guard/forward Jeanette Merriex, both of whom were picked to the pre-season all-conference squad. Ford finished fifth in the SBC with 4.0 assists per game while Merriex, the lone UALR senior, finished third on the team last season with 7.3 points per game. While UALR returns 67.2 percent of its scoring and 52.8 percent of its rebounding from 2012, the Trojans lost its top two rebounders in Marian Kursh (257, 8.0 per game) and Britteni Williams (213, 6.5 per game). Junior Taylor Ford is the leading rebounder from last season with 140 (4.2 per game) while Hannah Fohne led the team in shot blocks returning last season with 30 rejections (0.91). For the 2012-2013 season, eight of the 12 players on the roster are either freshman and sophomores. In a vote by the conference head coaches, UALR received 54 points and 10-of-11 first place votes to win its sixth-straight SBC West crown.

Arkansas State Red Wolves

This season will mark the 39th for women's basketball at Arkansas State. The Red Wolves have an all-time record of 616-453 during that time, including an 189-125 in 18 seasons of Sun Belt Conference play. ASU will open with 2012-13 season with nine newcomers on its roster, the most during the Brian Boyer era at Arkansas State. Jane Morrill was voted as a second-team All-SBC preseason selection by the league's 11 head coaches and was also named to the College Sports Madness Preseason First Team. Despite many new faces, the Red Wolves return four starters from last year's squad, including three seniors. Arkansas State head coach Brian Coach became the first coach in ASU basketball history to reach 200 wins last season. He stands a 211 career wins and is the school's all-time leader in wins. Arkansas State defeated Ouachita Baptist 86-46 in its preseason opener on Oct. 29. The Red Wolves are a 15-0 in exhibition games since the 2005-06 season.

Florida Atlantic Owls

FIU Panthers

Head Coach Cindy Russo returns for her 34th season at the helm of the Panther women's basketball squad in 2012-13. Russo has guided FIU to 22-consecutive winning seasons (1981-2003) and at least 20 victories on 18 occasions. She has led her teams to six NCAA Division I Tournament berths, six postseason Women's National Invitation Tournaments (WNIT) and two NCAA Division II Tournaments, in addition to winning eight regular season conference titles and seven tournament crowns. Russo has coached seven All-Americans during her tenure with the Panthers, including 2012 AP All-American Jerica Coley. For her career, Head Coach Cindy Russo has amassed a career record of 670-351 in 35 seasons, and comes into the 2012-13 campaign with a record of 630-329 across 33 seasons at FIU. Her 670 career victories rank ninth among active Division I coaches and 16th on the all-time winningest coaches list. FIU is coming off a 2011-12 season in which the Panthers compiled a record of 23-11 and posted their second-straight, 10-win Sun Belt Conference season with a ledger of 10-6. FIU advanced to its second-consecutive SBC Championship semifinal and earned an at-large bid to the Postseason WNIT. Led by a trio of seniors in Diamond Ashmore, SBC Preseason All-Conference Second Team selection Finda Mansare, and Carmen Miloglav, FIU returns 10 letterwinners, including four starters, from a season ago. Junior Jerica Coley, who earned AP All-America honors and SBC Player of the Year recognition as sophomore, also returns, as she was named the 2012-13 SBC Preseason Player of the Year. In the league's preseason coach's poll, FIU has been picked to finish second in the SBC East Division. FIU's 2012-13 schedule includes contests against nine teams that advanced to NCAA Tournament or Postseason WNIT play in 2011-12.The Panthers will open the 2012-13 campaign on Sunday, Nov. 11, when FIU welcomes North Florida to the friendly confines of U.S. Century Bank Arena.

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

Louisiana-Lafayette opens the 2012-13 season in Baton Rouge against Southern for the 12th meeting between the two teams. ULL holds a slight edge on the overall record, 6-5. Last year, the Cajuns beat the Jaguars 60-49 at Earl K. Long Gym. The Cajuns returns four letterwinners from last season and one starter in Robbie Brown. The squad welcomes seven newcomers, including five freshmen and two junior college transfers. UL scored 108 points in their opening exhibition game against Centenary, surpassing the century mark for the first time since Nov. 29, 1989 when the Cajuns beat Texas Southern, 101-83. Six different UL players scored in double digits with Brandi Schambough leading the way with 22 points. Byronesha Santiago recorded a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Brown played in 30 games last season, averaging 3.4 points, 2.4 assists and 19.4 minutes played. Brooklyn Arceneaux is the returning leading scorer for the Cajuns, averaging 4.7 points and 3.3 rebounds last season. She saw action in 24 games and averaged 19.4 minutes. Arceneaux scored a career-high 12 points and led the team in rebounds with 10 in an overtime win over Nebraska-Omaha. Megan Whittaker is the second returning leading scorer, averaging 3.7 points per contest last season. She was second on the team in three-pointers, knocking down 27. Schambough is the lone senior on the squad. She saw action in 16 games last season, averaging 3.5 minutes per contest.

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

The Warhawks will need to replace a 1,000 point scorer in Larrie Williams, Elizabeth Torres, who finished with the second most assists (452) in program history and Marion Zollicoffer, who appeared in 102 games during her career. ULM will attempt to improve upon a 9-21 season including a 7-9 mark in Sun Belt play. Preseason All-SBC Third Teamer Jasmine Shaw, Alexar Tugler and Ashleigh Simmons will be asked to lead the Warhawks. ULM ran past Louisiana College in its only exhibition game if the season, 110-96. Four Warhawks finished in double-figures led by 24 from Ashleigh Simmons. Jasmine Shaw finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Also in double-figures were Alayshia Hunter (18) and Jae Shin (15). ULM scored 63 points in the second half and shot 52 % for the game from the floor and 65.2% (30-46) from the free throw line. However, the Warhawks turned the ball over 32 times leading to 23 Lady Wildcat points. ULM scored 64 points in the paint in a game that featured 16 lead changes and 12 ties.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Middle Tennessee played in its 15th NCAA Tournament, and third as an at-large bid, from the Sun Belt Conference last season. The Blue Raiders won the league's regular-season title with a perfect 16-0 mark, just the seventh unbeaten run by any program in the last 20 years in the conference and just one of eight schools to accomplish the feat nationally in 2011-12. MT earned votes in three preseason polls. The Blue Raiders were ranked No. 23 nationally in the preseason Top 25 poll. MT was voted 27th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, while garnering 33rd in the USA Today Sports / ESPN Coaches' preseason poll. The Raiders were also selected preseason No. 24 in two national publications (Athlon and Lindy's). The Raiders were voted the preseason favorites in the Sun Belt East, grabbing 65 points and a possible 10-of-11 votes from the SBC coaches. Three Blue Raiders were selected preseason first team All-Sun Belt: Icelyn Elie, Kortni Jones and Ebony Rowe. It was the first time ever in school history that three Raiders had been voted preseason first team selections. Rowe, an All-Sun Belt first team pick last year, returns after averaging 16.3 points and 10.1 rebounds with a league-high four Sun Belt Player of the Week awards. Joining Rowe on the league's First Team was junior Kortni Jones after her breakout campaign saw her average a team-best 16.8 points. Jones connected on a single-season school and conference record 115 3-pointers and attempted a program and league standard 293 from behind the arc. Icelyn Elie, added All-Sun Belt Second Team accolades following a season in which she placed third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding.Head coach Rick Insell (174-54) is just within eight games of the program's career wins record. The MT alum holds a 122-15 mark in Sun Belt Conference play. The Blue Raiders earned perhaps the biggest win in program history when they defeated then-No. 6/6 Kentucky, 70-58, on Dec. 28, 2011. Over 5,000 fans witnessed the historic victory, one of two home crowds to reach the 5,000 plateau last season.MT put together a 20-game win streak from the Dec. 18 triumph over Tennessee State to the March 6 Sun Belt Tournament Championship versus UALR. The 20-game run was the second longest in program history.

North Texas Mean Green

North Texas begins a new era when Mike Petersen takes over as head coach of the Mean Green on November 12 against Texas State. Petersen, a veteran with 20 years of coaching experience, has won 313 career games and left Wake Forest as the all-time winningest coach. Petersen is the third head coach for North Texas in the last four seasons. The Mean Green last season had the best defensive season in school history. North Texas held its opponents to 57.7 points a game, which topped the previous school record by two points and was only the second time in school history that North Texas has held its opponents to less than 60 points for the year. The Mean Green was 15 games last season, an improvement of 10 games from the previous year which was tied for the second best turnaround in school history. The 15 wins were the most in a single season since the 2005-06 season and the third most since the 2001-02 season. North Texas returns six letterwinners from last season and three starters. Jasmine Godbolt, the leading scorer and rebounder is back from last season and has a chance to climb higher in the record books. Godbolt enters the 2012-13 season as the ninth leading scorer in school history with 1,080 career points and the fifth leading rebounder in school history with 661. Godbolt is 101 rebounds away from topping Amber Jackson and becoming the all-time leading rebounder in school history. The Mean Green open the season at home for only the second time in the last seven seasons.

South Alabama Jaguars

South Alabama picked up a 75-33 exhibition win over West Florida Monday evening in its lone exhibition game of the season. USA will open the 2012-13 season on the road on Friday when the Lady Jags travel to take on Houston Baptist. The Jaguars will host Tennessee State on Monday in the program's home opener.South Alabama improved to 18-0 in the all-time series versus West Florida with the 42-point win. The game marked the second-straight year USA has held the Argos to 33 points in a game. South Alabama head coach Rick Pietri is now 13-0 in exhibition games - including 11-0 against the Argos. The Lady Jag bench outscored UWF's reserves 43-9 in the contest. South Alabama had 11 of its 12 players get into the scoring column. USA forced 28 West Florida turnovers and converted them into 32 points. Of the 28 Argo turnovers, 15 came via a Jaguar steal. The Jags were solid defensively, holding West Florida to 33 points – the second-straight season the team has done so – and limiting the Argos to 21 percent shooting. UWF was just 6-of-31 in the second half for 19.4 percent. Junior college transfer Meghan Dunn came in and made an immediate impact registering a game-high 20 points off the bench. Dunn was 8-of-14 from the field and 4-for-10 from long range, while also chipping in with three assists and four steals. Preseason third-team all-conference selection Mary Nixon also got off to a strong start as she had 14 points and a team-high nine rebounds in the victory for USA.

Troy Trojans

The Trojans usher in a New Era of women's basketball as they open the 2012-13 season at Winthrop on Sunday. The Trojans then play their next two games at the newly constructed Trojan Arena as they host Mercer and Furman. Chanda Rigby begins her Troy coaching career after 11 successful seasons at the junior college level, including the last seven seasons at Pensacola State. Rigby's last two Pensacola State squads won state titles and played in the NJCAA Final Four. Rigby brings to Troy with her Kayla Ard, her top assistant at Pensacola State for the last two seasons. The first-year coaching staff is rounded out by two former head coaches. Jennifer Graf spent the last eight seasons as the head coach at Northwestern State while Michael Berry was the head coach at Mobile of the NAIA for the last four seasons. The Trojans will play their first season in the newly constructed Trojan Arena, a 5,200-seat on-campus facility that replaces the 50-year-old Sartain Hall. Trojan Arena ¬was a $40 million project and features two 767-square foot high-definition video boards. The Trojans roster features eight returning letterwinners from last season and six newcomers. The six newcomers consist of three true freshman and three junior college players. All three JUCO players played in The Panhandle Conference against Rigby, including Joanna Harden, the league's top scorer a season ago. Troy's schedule in 2012-13 features three games against SEC opponents, including one at home as Alabama visits Trojan Arena on December 15. Troy also travels to Florida and Mississippi State.

WKU Hilltoppers

WKU officially opens a new era of Lady Topper Basketball under first-year head coach Michelle Clark-Heard on Friday when it visits Murray State for a 5:15 p.m. (CST) tipoff. The Lady Toppers were successful in their only exhibition contest of the season, picking up a 96-64 win over Harding University Friday night. It was the third game for Harding against a Division I school, and the 96 points were the most the Lady Bison allowed in those three contests. HU also took on Wichita State and defeated Oral Roberts in its preseason games. WKU only had eight players in uniform for the exhibition game, but six scored in double figures against the Lady Bison. The Lady Toppers used a 29-4 run in the first half to pull away and cruise to the victory. That included a stretch of 13 unanswered points. WKU shot 60.6 percent from the field in the first half, and 55.1 percent for the game. It also shot 53.8 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Third-team preseason all-Sun Belt selections Alexis Govan and Chastity Gooch led the way for WKU. Govan dropped in a game-high 25 points on 12-for-17 shooting. She also collected six steals and dished out three assists in 22 minutes. Gooch posted a double-double with 17 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. Two newcomers were among those in double figures as freshmen Micah Jones and Mariah Sunkett tossed in 12 and 10 points, respectively. The Lady Toppers were able to score 52 of their 96 points in the paint, while also collecting 22 points off turnovers.