Coming off a huge road win at Wake Forest last weekend, the UNCG women’s basketball team looks poised for a major turnaround this season. Here’s a recap of their opening action, as well as predictions for the season to come.
Last year’s team didn’t quite find the on court success it was looking for last season, finishing with a record of 11-19 and going 5-9 in the Southern Conference. However, there were a lot of positives to build on from last year’s campaign, and the foundation for success has been laid down.
This was clear in UNCG’s huge road win at Wake Forest, downing the Deacs 67-65 and advancing to 1-1 on the season. Star forward Nadine Soliman led the Spartans with 26 huge points—the Deacons had no answers for her all night. It was perhaps the biggest win of head coach Trina Patterson’s career, especially after UNCG’s disappointing opening night loss to Richmond.
Preseason projections have UNCG finishing in fifth place, a slight improvement over the previous years performance. Last season, the SoCon was dominated by a Mercer team that went undefeated in conference play before nearly the Bears nearly upset Iowa as a 15 seed in the Round of 64. This year the Bears are projected to take a significant step back leaving, the league as open as ever.
Not only have the Spartans improved, but they have star talent in the right places as well. Soliman is back for her senior season after leading the SoCon in scoring last year with 19.1 points per game and was rewarded with an All-SoCon selection. Soliman needs to score a little less than 400 points to become UNCG’s all-time leading scorer over Lucy Mason.
Despite not being voted the front runner, Soliman could easily find herself in the SoCon player of the Year conversation. In her career, Soliman has made huge strides in efficiency, improving her field goal percentage by at least four percent each season. Another jump in efficiency could see Soliman unlock another level to her game.
Speaking of efficiency, Soliman will not be alone in her efforts this season as Te’Ja Twitty was also voted to the All-SoCon team for her swan song season. Twitty is one of the most efficient scorers in UNCG history and will hope to improve her efficiency even more. Twitty truly began to break out last season and should emerge as one of the, if not the best, forwards in the conference this season.
As stated earlier, the Spartans have a lot to be hopeful for this season due to returning talent. UNCG had the top scoring defense in the SoCon last season at 60 points per game and there is nothing stopping that from repeating. The Spartans were also the best in the conference at grabbing second chances and keeping their opponents off of the defensive glass. The team very clearly has an identity that it can build around this season.
Despite also leading the conference in defensive rebounding percentage, UNCG finished only sixth in the league in defensive rebounds. Still, the “Board Man” himself Kawhi Leonard would be proud of the Spartans as three of the top five rebounders in the SoCon wore blue and gold last season.
Another key sign for improvement is the teams scoring margin last year. Despite being well below .500, UNCG outscored their opponents by a large margin and posted a +2.8 scoring margin. For reference, that scoring margin was good for third place in the SoCon. This a clear indicator that the Spartans both should and can perform at a high level. It is just a matter of doing so consistently. With their early season win over Wake, that looks like a real possibility.
Alexis Pitchford is also back for her for her senior season. Pitchford showed excellent signs as a floor general last year, finishing in the top five for both assists and turnover ratio. Look for Pitchford to possibly lead the SoCon in assists with two of the deadliest scoring threats in the league beside her.
After years of being the most youth-filled team in the conference, UNCG can finally say that is had a battle-tested team led by veterans. That, combined with some great young talent coming through the pipeline, has put the Spartans in position to make some serious noise come tournament time.
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