Yellow and Blue confetti rained down from the rafters in the Pensacola Bay Center back in March. It was a significant moment especially for the UT-Arlington women’s basketball team. For the first time in 15 years the Lady Mavs were going dancing..
Punching its ticket to March Madness was not the only significant marker the Lady Mavs passed in 2021-22. It included its first-ever win over a AP-ranked Top 25 team with its 61-56 over then-ranked No.13 South Florida.
In 2022-2023, the Lady Mavericks will have a new hurdle to jump around.
GETTING TO KNOW THE MAVERICKS
Head Coach Shereka Wright inherited a program that was used to 20-win seasons, with four while being members of the Sun Belt Conference.
Last year’s team cemented Wright as one of the premiere head coaches at the mid-major level. The Lady Mavericks gave Iowa State all they could handle in Hilton Coliseum in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. UTA led for 27 minutes and had a lead as big as 11. But the Cinderella story was not to be, ending with a seven-point loss to the Cyclones.
Wright’s first season in Arlington in 2020-2021 showed promise. Despite dealing with COVID issues, a 13-7 season, including an 11-4 Sun Belt Conference record were solid. The Lady Mavs also lost just one game at the College Park Center all season.
The last two seasons defense has been at the forefront of the program. Wright has engulfed a culture of playing consistently sound defense and very rarely do teams eclipse 80 points on the Mavericks. In fact, it has only happened three times in Wright’s first two seasons. All of them coming in 2021-22. Meanwhile, the Lady Mavs have limited opponents to 60 points or less 19 times.
The Mavericks had six departures, headlined by a trio that decided to spend their last year of eligibility in the Big 12.
Guards Terryn Milton and Claire Chastain chose to play in their home state of Oklahoma for Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, guard Katie Ferrell followed the coach that recruited her to UTA, Krista Gerlich, as she dashed for West Texas to play for Texas Tech.
The attrition from last year’s team is big. But what they return and bring back might make UTA an immediate conference title contender in their return to the Western Athletic Conference.
The roster runs through senior forward Starr Jacobs. Her plethora of accolades from her breakout 2021-2022 campaign explains itself.
𝗖𝗥𝗢𝗪𝗡 𝗛𝗘𝗥 👑
✅ Season-high 33 points.
✅ 10th most points in a game.
✅ Fifth player ever to have multiple 30 point games in a single season.
✅ 29.2 points in her last 4 games.
✅ Averaging 21.2 points per game.
✅ First double-double in 🟠 & 🔵#TwoFeetIn | #MavUp pic.twitter.com/rkiSweqF4Y
— UTA Lady Mavs (@UTAMavsWBB) February 6, 2022
Alongside being the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and Conference Tournament MVP, Jacobs was also named Dave Campbell’s Texas Junior of the Year and was a Junior College Transfer of the Year finalist. She was the first Lady Maverick in program history to average 20 points a game, while also collecting 6.6 rebounds a game.
However, the Lady Mavericks are far from a one-trick pony.
Graduate transfer De’Sha Benjamin is using her COVID year to return to the Mavericks.
The Alabama transfer found her role and became a 3-point threat. Particularly during the Sun Belt Tournament run, alongside the Iowa State game. Benjamin had 14 games in double-figures, while hitting 35.6 percent of her 90 3-point attempts. At 6-0, Benjamin can hold her own on the defensive and is the exact wing piece Wright needs to keep this team at a high-level.
Fellow senior forward Shyia Smith is a name that is hidden in the weeds. But her impact has been humongous since her arrival from Wichita State.She joined the program just two months before Wright arrived in September 2020, and immediately became an instant scorer. Her 11.6 points per game in 2020-2021 led the team. Last year, Smith began the year off the bench and sustained a concussion, forcing her to miss six games. After returning on Dec. 30 against Louisiana, she worked her way back into her role. When the game against Texas State rolled around on Jan. 20, she never relinquished her starting spot. Smith finished with 6.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last year, while taking less shots.
Other key returners include bench pieces sophomore guard Reniya Jones and forwards Jordyn Turner and Stephanie Mosley
The Lady Mavericks had very few players that overwhelmed them. Guard Jireh Washington was one of them. She combined for 54 points against UTA last year while with Arkansas State. That includes her 26-point performance that ruined the Lady Mavericks Senior Day last year. Washington decided over the off-season she wanted to join the team she spent last year chasing around. Washington averaged 14.3 points per game last year, including six games with over 25 points, two against UTA.
More guards than Buckingham Palace. Official announcement of Jireh Washington to UTA. https://t.co/CX80ucWAls
— Andrew Tineo (@A_Tineo4) June 10, 2022
The 5-9 guard is far from just a playmaker, as her 37.7 percent 3-point percentage last year adds another feather into a cap that is flooded full of traits.
As if the team does not have enough players that can score, Wright added a key addition with Southern Methodist guard Kayla White. She was ninth in the conference last year at 13.2 points per game and finished her tenure in Dallas 22nd on the program’s scoring list.
The final transfer is the biggest wild card of the group with San Diego State transfer junior center Kamaria Gipson. A 6-3 product from Beeville, Texas, Gipson made 30 starts for the Aztecs over the last two years. Gipson had a storied career in Texas with 2,655 career points, the 32nd most in women’s Texas high school basketball history. Her impact will be based on what lineup Wright rolls out.