How the Texans have Matched their Best Start under Misty Wilson

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At this time last year, it was the opposite for the Tarleton women’s basketball team.

For one, the record was flipped. Instead of 8-3, the tied-best start through 11 games for Tarleton under head coach Misty Wilson, the Texans were 3-8.

There is a new energy flowing throughout the program, one of expectance when things are going well, and belief when things aren’t.

Simply put, the biggest difference between the two teams comes down to this – defense.

The Texans are allowing a Western Athletic Conference best 53.9 points per game, far and away better than No. 2 in the conference, Stephen F. Austin, at 56.4 PPG. That’d be the 26th lowest opponent PPG allowed in NCAA Division I, if not for reclassification. Last season, the Texans allowed 62.8 points per game, which would have ranked tied-120th.

It’s not even a difference in PACE, a common denominator for lower scoring outputs. Not only are the Texans taking more shots per game (58.5 FGA on average compared to 55.8 in 2020-21), they are also turning the ball over more (17.5 turnovers per game compared to 14.6 last season). It’s more of a credit to clamp-down defense and rebounding.

Opposing teams have a .330 field goal percentage against Tarleton right now, the best mark in the WAC and would-be tied-ninth in the nation. Among the top-15 teams in opposing field goal percentage in Division I, all have two losses or fewer, including four undefeated teams. Better rebounding has also limited second chance points for opponents, as Tarleton is allowing 57.1 field goal attempts on average this season compared to 58.6 last year. Tarleton is averaging 41.8 rebounds per game, a 6.6 RPG boost from 2020-21 (35.2). The Texans are No. 2 in the WAC in both rebounds for and allowed rebounds per game (34.4 RPG), owning the best rebounding margin in the conference (7.5). Next closest in the WAC is Abilene Christian at +4.5. Last year they were -3.7.

So, what has been the key difference besides simply playing “better” defense? Look no further than personnel.

The Texans turned over their roster by nine players, returning just six year-over-year. Malaya Kendrick, Lucy Benson, Iyana Dorsey, Emily Cunningham, Kaitlyn Guillory and Marissa Escamilla are back, but it’s essentially a turnover of 10 players, with Kendrick on the team in a practice-only role last year. Plus, the returners were all major contributors last year, including four of the top-five scorers, three of the top-four rebounders, four of the top-six assist leaders, four of the top-five leaders in steals, and four of the top-five leaders in blocks.

One of the biggest additions to the team is Seynabou Thiam – literally. Thiam is a 6-foot 6-inch destroyer, an integral reason for the conference’s top defense. Thiam has an incredible 30 blocks this season – the next closest in the conference has 18, and the next closest on the team has five. Nationwide, only 11 players have more blocks, and only 11 are averaging more than her 2.7 BPG mark.

Thiam has been instrumental in changing the flow of the game, not only with all of her blocks, but her altered shots altogether and deterrent for others to play in the paint. As a team, the Texans are second in the conference in blocks per game (5.2), a would-be tied 27th best in the nation.

The starting center has also put together a stamp on her offensive game as the season has gone on. She’s averaging 8.1 points on 48.1 percent shooting, recently recording 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting against Northwestern State. That performance boosted her to a WAC Women’s Basketball Player of the Week honor, the first for the program. She leads the team in rebounding at 7.3 RPG, averaging 11.0 rebounds over her last three contests. No Texan has averaged more in a full season since 2016-17.

Looking at the rest of the roster, there’s a great balance brought by everyone involved.

For Kendrick, leadership and a certain calmness have been prevalent with her on the floor. Never deterred, Kendrick has a knack for the ball, where at 5-7 and the team’s starting point guard, she’s second in rebounding at 6.9 RPG. She’s also second in scoring at 8.4 points per game, to go with leading in assists per game (2.9).

Jurnee President and Jenna Dick have led the charge in the team’s improvement in shooting. Dick (.474) and President (.419) are both shooting above 40 percent from the three-point line, two of just eight players in the WAC at that benchmark. Tarleton’s three-point percentage is up to .322 from .281 last season. Nya Mitchels has been as efficient as they come from the floor in general, making 26-of-41 (.634) shots this season, a would-be best mark in the WAC if she qualified (she’s below the conference’s 3 FGM per game requirement). This season, the Texans are shooting 41.6 percent from the field, well above their 36.1 percent from last season.

Don’t forget the scoring ability and defense from Dorsey (10.3 PPG, 1.9 SPG), the all-around game from Escamilla (6.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG) and an important presence down low from Benson (5.0 RPG). All 15 players have played important roles thus far and will be important pieces to what Tarleton hopes is a masterpiece of a season.

Now the Texans look ahead, set to begin conference play on Thursday. Through an 8-3 start, Tarleton has shown they’re more than ready to make some noise in their second season in the WAC.

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