By BRAD KEITH
(February 13, 2016) — Tarleton State is riding a season-high four-game win streak, the last two on the road in typically tough environments against teams among the top tier of the Lone Star Conference.
The surge has tied the TexAnns (13-9, 7-5) for fourth in the Lone Star Conference, just one game behind third-place Texas Woman’s and 1.5 behind an Angelo State team Tarleton dominated by 28 and 15 points head-to-head.
Now, the momentum bearing TexAnns return to the friendly confines of Wisdom Gym and look to avoid a letdown against a Texas A&M-Kingsville (5-16, 0-11) club that is winless in conference play and has lost 15 straight.
“We’re excited. It’s Pink Out Night, and we[ll honor survivors of breast cancer, which means a lot to me and the girls,” said Tarleton head coach Misty Wilson. “It also means a lot because it’s a conference game we need to win. We have to continue to build on what we’ve been doing.”
There have been several contributing factors to the Tarleton win streak, says Wilson, whose club last lost in overtime at LSC leader West Texas A&M.
Tarleton has had strong backcourt play all season, but one of the biggest recent improvements has been in the paint, where 6-2 senior Breanna Fuller has become the player Wilson was hoping to see when she brought her in as a Division I transfer from Northwestern State (La.) before last season.
Fuller has scored in double figures twice in the last three games and has netted at least seven points in eight of the last 11 games. She is coming off a 13-point seven rebound game, and has collected at least seven boards in five of the last seven contests.
“Breanna has really come a long way and she’s a force inside now,” Wilson said. “She’s working for rebounding position, she’s finishing strong, she’s just finding ways to help us win.”
The TexAnns have also received a big boost off the bench. They knew what they had in Meagan O’Dell, a senior guard, and she has not disappointed, averaging seven points and reaching double figures seven times on the season. She had 11 points in a season high 25 minutes in an overtime loss at West Texas A&M, when the TexAnns really began to turn the corner before beginning their current four-game streak.
But O’Dell hasn’t been the only guard coming off the bench and doing damage. Tiara Tatum, a sophomore from Fairfield, had a career high 13 points against Midwestern State when she played 22 minutes, just one less than a season high. Wilson’s confidence in Tatum has clearly grown as she has played at least 15 minutes in each of the last three games after playing less than that in each of the prior 12.
“Tiara is giving us a spark off the bench and she’s helped us a lot, and of course, Meagan gives us a lot off the bench,” Wilson said. “And those aren’t the only ones. I’m confident that Tori (Travanti Downes), Nia (Jackson), Cat (Catherine Okwilagwe), several girls can go in there and help us at any time.”
Okwilagwe is a 6-2 true freshman from Garland Lakeview Centennial who has been used more as the season has gone along.
“I like the way she’s developing, and I definitely like that she’s 6-2. She’s going to become an offensive weapon for us,” said Wilson of Okwilagwe. “The only thing keeping her from getting even more minutes is that we are so deep.”
As it’s all come together, Tarleton has gotten on a role and is joining what Wilson calls a log-jammed LSC race.
“Like our men have a log jam for the top five or six spots, we have a log jam for spots two through five on the women’s side,” said Wilson. “It’s just going to be about which of those teams can keep it together and execute down the stretch because there is still a lot to be determined, and anyone can beat anyone on any given night.”
Now is the time of the season when teams must either get hot or stay hot, and Tarleton is fortunate to count itself as one of those looking to remain so.
“I really like the chemistry and depth we are showing right now,” said Wilson. “We have to keep it going because now is the time of year when you want to be playing your best basketball.”