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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, January 7, 2009

By Bethany Bradsher

Women winning but looking for more

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Sharon Baldwin-Tener’s basketball team is at the top of Conference USA. The Lady Pirates blew out their first conference opponent by more than 20 points, and a trip to the Bahamas over the Christmas break yielded a tournament trophy.

But when she reflects back over the last 14 games, Baldwin-Tener can only find 20 minutes of basketball that she has truly been satisfied with so far.

“You can’t get too carried away right now,” she said. “The good thing, though, is that we’re 10-4 and I don’t think we’ve played all that well yet. “

She’s not really a pessimist; Baldwin-Tener just has a coach’s natural thirst to see potential realized. Her best glimpse of that potential came in the first half of the C-USA opener against Marshall, which the Lady Pirates won 70-47.

“The first half, that was the best we have played by far,” she said. “We were really good offensively and defensively.”

Leading the conference doesn’t mean much to Baldwin-Tener or her players yet, since they’ve only played one C-USA game. But the next test of the 10-4 Pirates could be the steepest yet – a two-part road trip to Tulsa and Southern Methodist, followed a week later by a game at Marshall.

“It’s strictly business, these next two trips,” said senior Jasmine Young. “We have to get down to business. We have to win games on the road if we’re going to have a chance.”

Young and fellow senior guard Lacoya Terry are working to lead their team through a memorable final season, and they are both optimistic about the chemistry and talent they see on this squad.

When the conference slate started last year, the team was struggling to put all of the pieces together and still recovering from the graduation of post player Cherie Mills.

But the post has become a more formidable place for Pirate opponents lately, especially with newcomers like freshman Jean Best, a 6-foot-5 center from Wilson who has 17 blocks so far. Terry and Young, who are averaging 17.4 and 10 points respectively, are seeing more open looks to the basket because the Pirates are presenting a more balanced game.

“Jean Best is a great asset,” Young said. “She takes a lot of pressure. Not only is she a post that can score inside, she’s been getting double and triple teamed.”

Best isn’t the only young player who has helped the Pirates to their strong start, Baldwin-Tener said. Sophomore Kim Gay, who is leading the team in rebounds and shooting 76.5 percent from the floor, has proved how steep the learning curve is from a player’s first to second year.

Freshman Ashley Clarke has helped give Young some rest and freshman Crystal Wilson has been a defensive power with 18 steals and six blocks.

As they test their road chops out west, Terry and her teammates will keep looking for the unity they found in Minges against Marshall. Two of the keys to maintaining that momentum are improving their rebounding and free throw shooting, she said, and realizing that the small things turn into big things in tight conference matchups.

“Everybody has a lot more confidence this year,” Terry said.

Over on the bench, Baldwin-Tener has seen the growing chemistry of her players mirrored on her staff, which is comprised of the head coach – in her sixth year – and three new assistant coaches.

“I think anytime you have rollover in your staff, there are some changes and things that new ideas bring to the table,” Baldwin-Tener said of the hiring of Roger Hodge, Adrienne Shuler and Jocelyn Wyatt. ”It’s been a really good thing for our basketball program to get new ideas.”

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01/07/2009 01:23:27 AM

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