Column: Women's basketball’s season strong in conference, average overall

Assistant Sports Editor

The Texas State women’s basketball team finished with a 16-16 overall record and a 12-6 record in the Sun Belt Conference.

The Bobcats were eliminated in the semifinals of the Sun Belt postseason tournament by the Arkansas State Red Wolves, who beat them three times by an average margin of 12 points this season.

Texas State entered the tournament with nine wins in its last 12 games, including an 11-point road victory against Western Kentucky, the eventual Sun Belt champion. The team was in contention for the second seed in the playoffs up until the final week. As the fourth seed, and with some momentum heading into the postseason, Texas State’s chances to win the tournament were reasonably high.

The Bobcats’ season fell apart against Arkansas State, the top seed in the conference.

By and large, the women’s basketball team had a very successful season, especially compared to its preseason projections. Entering a new conference, Texas State was projected to finish ninth in the Sun Belt preseason coaches’ poll. Only UT-Arlington, which finished last in the conference, drew fewer votes than Texas State.

The Bobcats’ roster was saturated with inexperience, with nine underclassmen and only five upperclassmen. Coach Zenarae Antoine stressed throughout the season that it would take time for the younger players to acclimate to the system and Division I basketball.

Texas State opened the season with a 28-point victory against a non-Division I opponent, Huston-Tillotson. Then, the Bobcats lost eight of their next nine games. The team’s largest defeat, a 54-point loss against Texas, indicated that perhaps the Bobcats were a few years from contending for a NCAA tournament berth.

Then the Bobcats flipped the switch. Antoine inserted Meghan Braeuer, junior guard, into the starting rotation. Ayriel Anderson, sophomore guard, provided off-the-dribble punch for the bench unit. Ashley Ezeh, senior center, returned from injury, giving the Bobcats a potent interior option. Erin Peoples, sophomore forward, and Kaylan Martin, senior guard, filled in the gaps.

The Bobcats avoided a losing streak between Dec. 22 and Feb. 22. Texas State won five consecutive games against Troy, Louisiana-Monroe, Western Kentucky, Louisiana and UT-Arlington during that stretch. The team looked like a viable contender.

The Bobcats struggled to generate offense in the first half, forcing them to dig out of holes in the second half. Twelve of their 16 victories this season were by single digits. Texas State expended a ton of energy in the second half to make up for playing poorly. It worked out fine, but at some point, that nagging tendency will catch up to any basketball team, especially against the better teams in the conference. Texas State went 2-4 against the top three teams in the Sun Belt and 10-2 against the bottom eight teams.

Statistically, Texas State was an average team, ranking fifth in point differential in the conference. While the Bobcats’ record may be inflated by an above-average record in close margins, the Bobcats improved defensively this year. They allowed 67.2 points per game, fourth in the conference and almost three points fewer than last season. Rebounding was still a problem, but Texas State usually clamped down enough defensively to win games.

This season, Antoine experimented with three-guard lineups, different rotations and a slower-paced offense. Each tactic worked. Anderson, Braeuer and Kaitlin Walla, freshman guard, improved down the stretch, giving Antoine three reliable backcourt options in addition to Martin. Jasmine Baugus, senior forward, took a while to acclimate to her new role, but she learned the nuances of playing off the bench in time for the postseason. Jacqueline Jeffcoat, junior forward, and Kileah Mays, sophomore center, will return next season, and they will be needed in Ezeh’s absence.

There were certainly more positives than negatives.

Women’s basketball is trending in the right direction, though building upon on this season’s success will be contingent on younger players since the team will be losing Ezeh, Martin and Baugus, a trio that scored 36 percent of the points this year.