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Bon appétit Women’s basketball rolls up sleeves for WAC play

Vaqueros guard Bernesha Peters plays close defense against Utah Valley. The freshman scored a career-high 20 points in the win. LESLEY ROBLES/ THE RIDER

If a women’s college basketball season is a three-course meal, Head Coach Larry Tidwell’s group of women has moved past finger foods onto the main course.

Nonconference has come and gone, with the Vaqueros completing the road-heavy stretch with mixed results.

Even though it was just appetizers for conference, the schedule did include a few stiff challenges. Tidwell’s team went 8-7, while traveling to schools like Syracuse, Texas Christian and Kansas State and suffering defeats in most of those major conference games. They even were able to leave Houston with a 55-45 road victory over U of H, the first in program history.

Nonconference conditions a team for the different styles of play it may face during crucial games. WAC play, however, is about results, plain and simple. Teams fight for higher seeding in the end of season conference tournament that earns one team a berth in the NCAA tournament.

The Vaqueros are four games into conference and they are chowing down. Their record stands at 3-0 as of Jan. 14, outscoring their opponents 177-132 in these games.

A season ago, the team came out of the gates hot as well, winning their first four conference games. Despite a 9-5 WAC record last year, it was not enough to win their league. The team, then the Broncs, finished third.

This year, the squad feels like it is more complete and that the gap has been closed. This season gives an opportunity for the team to prove last year was just the start.

This season depth has proved to be a key to success for Tidwell’s group.

With the team’s second leading scorer, Mary Savoy, sidelined momentarily due to an injury, other players have
stepped up.

In the conference opener against Grand Canyon University, Anushka Maldonado scored 14 points, tying the most
in her career. She also picked up 11 rebounds for her second double-double.

Bernesha Peters, a freshman guard, had breakout games in the team’s first pair of nonconference games. She averaged 19.5 points in those games and also earned herself WAC player-of-the-week honors.

Peters recognizes that the road-heavy schedule is a reality that they will have to cope with.

“We do a lot of traveling, a lot flying,” said Peters, the 5-foot-3-inch guard. “We have to rest up and keep our momentum, keep our head straight and just keep our focus throughout the whole season.”

Of the 29 games on this year’s schedule, 18 take place away from the Fieldhouse. Half of the conference games will take place on hostile courts.

After playing 11 of its first 15 games away from UTRGV, the team is well-versed in the art of road performances. Larry Tidwell, who put together the schedule, says the approach does not change much on the road. However, the intensity he expects his women to play with does.

“We play and approach everything just like we do home games,” Tidwell said. “Except when you’re on the road, you need to play 15 points better than your opponents. You’re in good arenas across the country and you got to play hard to keep your head above the water.”

Tidwell praised his team’s ability to find scoring options even at times when the typical point scorers, like Shawnte’Goff, get played tough defensively.

“We have set plays for her and now [other teams] adjust to them; she’s getting doubled, she’s getting trapped,” he said. “So, naturally, we feed it to the person who’s open and that person needs to hit that. We have a plethora of options.”

One of those options is 5-foot-9-inch freshman guard Idril Türk. She has appeared in 14 of the team’s games, averaging 8.4 minutes in those games. The native of Istanbul, Turkey, is a role player who is gaining valuable experience in her first collegiate season.

“Even though we are a new team, I feel like we’ve known each other for a long time,” said Türk, who has competed with her country’s national team since age 12. “As a freshman, if we can benefit from our freshmen or from our bench they’ll help us win our games. We focus on our defense more than our offense, and I think that’s our key to success.”

To better last season and win the WAC, regular season or tournament, the Vaqueros will need all hands on deck.
There are dates on the schedule that are circled, like the Jan. 30 clash between UTRGV and WAC powerhouse New Mexico State.

A game-by-game approach is how Tidwell demands his team looks at things. Asked how he gets everyone in that same mindset, he was blunt.

“They don’t have a choice”

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