Women's Basketball 2006-07 season preview (Part two)
Jackson, one of the most formidable and explosive frontcourt players nationally since her freshman campaign, brings career averages of 15.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest into her senior season, and has the chance to become just the fourth player in UT history to collect 1,000-plus rebounds.
Jackson is a difference-maker extraordinaire and will lead the offensive and rebounding punch inside. She and 6-2 forward Katrina Robinson (2.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg in 11 starts last year) are the lone Longhorn seniors.
"Surprisingly, the post is where we have our most experience, which is not something we would have thought," noted UT head coach Jody Conradt. "Our post players have responded very well to Clarissa (assistant coach Davis-Wrightsil) who is working closely with them. They are way ahead of where they've been in past preseasons, and we are excited about that."
"Tiffany has always approached the game with a great passion and work ethic, and now she has assumed the team leadership and is doing an excellent job with that," Conradt concluded. "Aubry (Cook) and Ashley (Lindsey) continue to build on what they experienced last year. I am sure that they are ready for the challenge which faces them in the paint."
Lindsey and Cook got immediate playing time as freshmen last year. The 6-4 Lindsey led the squad in blocked shots with 54, helping UT set the school record for most single season rejections (with 164). The rangy post with great quickness also chipped in with 5.4 points and was second to Jackson in rebounding (with 4.9 rpg) as she played in all 28 games, gaining eight starts. Additional frontcourt help will come from 6-3 sophomore post Mariana Mergerson, who saw limited time last year while recovering from a high school knee injury. A gifted offensive player, Mergerson saw her first action in late January and played in 11 games, averaging 3.7 points and 7.2 minutes per contest.
"But as Carla goes, this team will go, particularly early on. It is crucial that she comes back strong. Carla's understanding of the game and her ability to make plays is a given, but it's been a long time since she's been in a game situation."
The Texas point guard position has not been a subject of worry for many years since that position was held down admirably since 2002-03 by Jamie Carey, currently a point guard with the WNBA's Connecticut Sun, and four-year starter Nina Norman, who just graduated.
The point guard duties will now fall to Cortijo, a wonderful passer with great court sense. Prior to going down with her knee injury in early December, Cortijo played in six games, scoring in double-digits twice while playing 19.7 minutes per contest.
"Carla is progressing well, but we have to have depth there. At this point, point guard duties also will go to Erika (Arriaran) and maybe even to Brittainey (Raven). Erika has experience there and understands what we are looking for. Brittainey played point for her high school team and her thleticism gives us an added dimension at point," Conradt said.
Arriaran has worked hard on her overall game during the off-season, getting stronger and quicker. Jackson and Arriaran were the one-two punch a year ago, combining to take 610 of UT's 1706 shots (36 percent). They provided a solid inside-outside threat, yet along with graduated point guard Nina Norman, were the only Longhorns to score in double-figures more than four times. Jackson was in double-digit scoring in 22 of her 25 games, while Arriaran hit for double-figures 18 times and Norman 16 times.
"Erika has expanded her game, and she has to be a big scoring option for us," noted Conradt. "She is one of best shooters we've ever had in our program. We didn't exactly set her up well last year, but she learned from that as well. Erika's prepared herself, and physically she is in the best condition ever. She is understanding how to adjust to the college game speed and I think we will see her start to step up in her leadership as well."
There are lots of opportunities for minutes at the guard spots, as graduation took Norman (11.1 ppg, team-high 77 assists), Coco Reed (1.4 ppg, 13 minutes per game) and Tamra Cobbins (9.1 minutes per game) out of the lineup.
"It will be interesting to see who will step up and seize opportunities to play," concluded Conradt. "Players who stand out in the preseason include Erneisha Bailey, a junior who has now committed herself to being the best player she can be. Crystal Boyd has looked exceptionally good. She has worked hard to condition herself and she can really shoot the basketball. And Gabrielle (Mattox) is expected to challenge for time as well."
Bailey (3.0 ppg) appeared in 27 games last year, starting six while averaging 12 minutes per contest, while Boyd (2.6 ppg) averaged nine minutes per game off the bench.
Williams is the second of two heralded recruits (along with Cortijo) sidelined as a medical redshirt last year. Prior to suffering her season-ending knee injury (an ACL tear) on a second-half drive to the basket in the Dec. 4th game against No. 1 Duke, Williams had netted 12 points and three assists against the Blue Devils in her first career start. Her loss devastated the young lineup.
"Earnie Williams is as complete a player as you will find," Conradt said. "She does everything really, really well. She has rehabbed her knee as well as anyone possibly could. Right now, we need to be concerned about conserving her repetitions and time on the floor in practice, because Earnie is so key to what we will do this year. Both she and Carla are so anxious to get back and help us."
A pair of freshmen, 6-1 forward Niqky Hughes and 6-3 forward Kristen Nash, are expected to log immediate minutes with their abilities to play inside-outside, and the 5-11 Mattox also may see action at the wing spot as well.
Texas appears to have enough firepower - and a maturity and competitive drive - to significantly climb up the charts and be ready for tough Big 12 competition.
"A great sense of 'team' and what we need to do to represent The University of Texas and ourselves in a better light is now evident every day in conditioning and in individual workouts," Conradt commented. "Everyone is taking care of business across the board. All are in better shape and more prepared mentally to face our tough early season schedule and very demanding Big 12 competition. But, ultimately it is not about talking about it and it is not about what you do in practice. What counts is translating all this and having us become better individually and better as a team when we take to the floor in November."
If the Longhorns continue to work as hard on the court as they have in the off-season, they have a chance to once again be a challenger in the ultra-competitive Big 12 conference and gain the program's 22nd berth to the NCAA championship.
LOOKING AT THE 2006-07 SCHEDULE
The schedule features two exhibitions and 30 regular season games, with 18 games played in Austin at UT's Frank Erwin Center and 12 played on the road or at a neutral site. After two early November exhibition games, Conradt's squad opens the regular season with nine of its first 11 games at home.
Top opponents include an away game at Duke, the 2006 NCAA runnerup, and home showdowns with Tennessee (Elite Eight team last year) and Sweet 16 squad Purdue. Texas has a real battle on its hands in December, facing Duke and Tennessee in back-to-back contests. Other NCAA tourney teams from a year ago include Baylor and Oklahoma (Sweet 16 teams), New Mexico, Texas A&M, Missouri and Southern.
The Longhorns will be showcased on national TV a total of 10 times and on regional television three times, with two games on ESPN2, two on ESPNU, four on FSN (FOX Sports Net), two on CSTV and three on FSNSW (Fox Sports Southwest).
The televised games are highlights on the UT schedule.
Texas' two ESPN2 contests in 2006-07 are against Purdue (Sunday, Jan. 7) in Austin as part of the Big 12/Big Ten Challenge, and against Big 12 opponent Oklahoma in a "Big Monday" matchup (Feb. 12).
On FSN at home at the Frank Erwin Center, the Longhorns square off against Tennessee (Sunday, Dec. 17), Texas A&M (Sunday, Jan. 21) and Texas Tech (Saturday, Feb. 24). On the road, Texas and Kansas State meet on FSN on Saturday, Feb. 3. UT has ESPNU tilts at Duke on Sunday, Dec. 10 and at home against Oklahoma (Wednesday, Jan. 31).
Both Texas versus Baylor Big 12 matchups will air on CSTV - at Austin (Wednesday, Jan. 24) and at Waco (Sunday, Feb. 18).
UT's regional TV appearances on FSNSW are part of The University of Texas' own basketball TV broadcast package (Longhorns Sports Network/UT Syndicated TV) in agreement with FSN. Those telecasts are: Texas-Louisiana Lafayette (Monday, Nov. 13) and Texas-Kansas (Saturday, Feb. 10) from Austin and the Texas-Texas Tech conference game (Saturday, Jan. 27) from Lubbock.
Texas should get a big boost at the beginning of the season with nine of the first 11 games (all non-conference games) at home. Texas opens its regular season slate of games by hosting the four-team, three-day Basketball Travelers Classic from Sunday through Tuesday, Nov. 12-14. Teams participating in the round-robin event include Texas State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Maryland-Eastern Shore. Texas plays Maryland-Eastern Shore in the Sunday season opener before meeting Louisiana-Lafayette on Monday and closing out the tourney against the Bobcats of Texas State on Tuesday.
The rest of November and December finds the Longhorns home for six of their eight games in this span, including the Tennessee game (Dec. 17). The two away games are against New Mexico (Nov. 17) and Duke (Dec. 10). Texas closes out December by traveling to San Diego for the Surf 'N Slam Hoop Classic (Thursday and Saturday, Dec. 28 and 30). This four-team tourney features Texas, host San Diego, Holy Cross and Oregon State.
During Big 12 competition, the Longhorns will face South Division opponents Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech twice (in a home-and-home format) and will play each opponent from the North Division once.
Following the regular season finale at Texas A&M in late February, the Longhorns travel to Oklahoma City for the 2007 Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship which takes place at Cox Convention Center. This will be the first year that Oklahoma City serves as the Big 12 tourney site.