Coaches are looking for tangible signs of improvement as the season progresses. These signs can be anything from better defense to more productive play by individual players.
However, the best sign of growth often appears on the scoreboard.
North Texas saw a stunning sign in that regard on Monday afternoon when Mean Green took the Florida International 71-45 at the Super Pit.
UNT fell into FIU 86-67 early in the season as he struggled with a series of key injuries and the process of recruiting many new players into his rotation.
UNT (6-11, 3-4 Conference USA) didn’t win in a row for the entire season before breaking through against the Panthers.
“I’m really proud of our team,” said UNT coach Jali Mitchell. “For the first time in a whole year, we won this elusive second game in a row. I am proud of us not only for what we do, but also for what we understand and perform as. We did it defensively.”
UNT has always emphasized good defensive play under Mitchell and has put together one of the best performances this end of the floor all season.
Mean Green held FIU (8–8, 3–4) to their lowest offensive record of the season and limited the Panthers to three points in the second quarter.
UNT forced 29 passes and made 16 interceptions. Five Mean Green players had at least two interceptions.
“In practice, we focused on our defense and our defense created our offense,” said UNT defender Jordin Carter. “When you see a teammate dive to the floor, you want to make the next stop. The way we played defensively gave us momentum.”
Mean Green took 33 points from the loss and had one of the most balanced attacks of the season. Ania Johnson led the UNT with 14 points. Quincy Noble added 10.
In Mean Green, six players have scored at least seven points.
“We are at our best when we have that balance,” Mitchell said. “That makes it harder for us to defend. We were very selfless. The ball moved the way it should. We played together at both ends of the court.”
UNT entered the day off with a landslide 75-59 victory over Florida Atlantic and picked up where they left off against FIU.
Mean Green dominated the first half defensively and took a 26-13 lead.
Just 16.1% (5 of 31) of FIU’s shots from the field scored their three points in the second quarter thanks to a lone three-pointer from Sifa Joyeuse, who led the Panthers with 12 points. UNT forced 19 passes in the first half and turned them into 15 points.
Johnson scored the first four points in a 7-0 series that opened the tie to give UNT a 14-7 lead.
Jaaklyn Moore scored 3 late in the first half to give UNT a 13-point lead at half-time.
The Mean Green quickly put an end to the game, opening the second half with a 6-0 lead. A 28-man UNT at the end of the second half.
Mitchell attributed UNT’s success to Mean Green finding an approach that worked for them defensively. Carter moved into the starting lineup at the end of the season and lifted UNT with her all-round play. She finished with eight points, five rebounds and four steals against FIU.
“Jordan did a great job guiding us,” Mitchell said. “Her energy is infectious. She has a lot of balls in her hands.”
UNT has been looking for a spark for most of the season, as well as an approach that could launch him.
Mean Green definitely seem to be closer to finding what they were looking for after dominating the FIU team who handily beat them early in the season.
“Our defense is what has changed for us,” Mitchell said. “We also didn’t take good care of the ball at their house.”
UNT looked like a completely different team on Monday, which Mean Green believes is a sign of what’s to come before the end of the season.
“It’s starting to go the right way,” Carter said. “We play more as a team and get everyone involved. We have everyone contributing.”
North Texas 71, Florida International 45
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (8-8, 3-4) – Butera 1-3 1-2 3, Gonzalez 3-7 1-4 7, Henderson 4-15 1-2 10, Trice 0-6 1-2 1, Hayes 0-5 3:4 3, Joyueze 4:13 1:4 12, Lazic 1:2 1:2 3, Yoakum 0:0 2:2 2, Camacho 0:2 0:0 0, Torres 1:1 2:2 4. Total 14-54 13-24 45.
NORTH TEXAS (6-11, 3-4) – Johnson 5-10 4-5 14, McGruder 3-5 0-0 7, Hardaway 1-3 0-0 2, Carter 2-3 4-7 8, Moore 3-10 0-2 7, Noble 3-12 4-4 10, Davis 2-4 1-2 5, Laudermill 1-5 2-4 4, Lampkin 2-2 5-6 9, Bowles 0-0 0-0 0, Abercrombie 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 24-58 20-30 71.
Break — UNT 26-13 Three-pointer goals – RPF 4-21 (Henderson 1-3, Trice 0-5, Hayes 0-2, Joyez 3-8, Lazic 0-1, Camacho 0-2) UNT 3-13 (McGruder 1-2, Hardaway 0-1, Moore 1-3, Noble 0-3, Laudermill 0-1, Abercrombie 1-3) Out of order – nobody Rebounds – PFR 47 (Butera, Henderson 8) UNT 37 (Johnson 9) Assits – FIU 6 (Trice, Hayes 2) UNT 12 (Hardaway 4) Total fouls – FIU 24, UNT 20 A – 1300.