Five wins in five conference games feels like a long time ago for UTRGV women’s basketball. The five-game streak to start conference play raised some eyebrows around the Western Athletic Conference.
Now, Head Coach Larry Tidwell’s team is trying to play itself out of a funk that has seen its record drop to 7-4 (as of press time Friday).
Injuries have plagued the Vaqueros this season, with first-year players who have been contributing going down to extended periods. Freshman Bernesha Peters missed a few games, as did junior-transfer students Anushka Maldonado and Mary Savoy.
Savoy was averaging 10.5 points per game and has been out of action since December for UTRGV.
The team has been giving a multitude of areas to find excuses, but Tidwell is not about to allow his team to use any.
“I’m not making excuses, I’ve got to do a better job,” the veteran coach said. “It’s all about coaching when we get down to those [close] games. I’ve got to coach smarter. I’ve got to coach quicker, and I need to get more effort in the second half. So you can just put this on Coach Tidwell.”
During the second half of the WAC regular season, the Vaqueros have dropped games to Utah Valley and Missouri-Kansas City, two teams they earned wins against in round one of WAC.
Despite the recent slide in results, the Vaqueros are still among the top WAC teams.
“We’re still in second, as bad as we’ve spiraled. [If] we win two on the road, we’re right back at it. If we take care of business the next three games, we’re going to end up second and we go into the tournament as the No. 2 seed,” Tidwell said.
Two regular season games remain for UTRGV. One against the worst team in the conference, Chicago State at home.
The other against the best team in the WAC on the road. It provides stiff contrast but the team may be able to use that to its advantage with the WAC tournament looming after the New Mexico State season finale.
The head coach still found many players who were worthy of praise as they played through the tough stretch.
“Shawnte’ [Goff] is a competitor, Anushka [Maldonado] is a competitor, Rickell Preston is playing at a high level,” Tidwell said, starting to list before summing up. “I’ve got a really goodnucleus. If we can get healthy and get everybody put together, I think we’ll be OK.”
Anushka Maldonado is a player that Tidwell has counted on down the stretch of conference play. The junior, who transferred from Odessa College, has been playing major minutes and has stepped into a big role. She currently averages 27.3 minutes and 9.8 points per games, along with 6.5 rebounds a game in her 23 appearances.
The forward insists that hard work is the only way to remedy a losing streak.
“[We need to] just forget about the last games, focus on what we need to improve, which starts at practice. [We need to] work on the things we need to do,” the 6-foot-1-inch Maldonado said.
“We watch film to see what we did wrong and start from there.”
She feels that a 5-0 start like the one the team started with creates a target on their back that is a byproduct of success.
“It’s natural instinct to feel that way for a team that started out 5 and 0,” Maldonado said. “Potentially, that’s what their attitude was. Every team should just come out ready to play, regardless.”
Maldonado was only looking toward the future during practice last week.
“Before we lose our second place we need to step it up,” said Maldonado, a Roy, Wash., native. “We just need to figure out our weaknesses, build and go.”
The regular season is coming to a close.
The last time RGV fans can see this team in home action will be this Saturday when Chicago State visits UTRGV.
The Western Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals start March 9 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The Vaqueros hope to reach the tournament finals for the second year in a row, which will take place March 12 and be televised on ESPNU.