Coming off a disappointing 1-1 Texas road trip, Charlotte looks to finish strong down the final stretch of the regular season, starting with a win against North Texas (9-14, 3-8).
“We’re excited for this week. I like how our team is playing right now,” Charlotte Head Coach Consuegra said. “This is going to be a tough week. North Texas is a really good team. Their record doesn’t quite indicate that, but they’ve had a couple of one possession losses [and] they have one of the best post players in the league.”
The Mean Green started the season with strong wins against Hawaii and Western Kentucky, currently third in Conference USA standings. They also gave No. 12 and current No. 4 NC State an upset scare on the road during a wire-to-wire matchup.
Injuries have plagued the Mean Green as key players such as Anisha George and Madison Townley have been in-and-out of the lineup due to injuries. However, losing Destinee McDowell, a promising freshman forward and the team’s second-leading scorer, to season-ending injury proved to be a significant loss. North Texas Head Coach Jalie Mitchell has shuffled her lineup and rotation to accommodate the injuries and changes in personnel.
Records aside, Charlotte and North Texas appear to be evenly matched opponents. Both the Mean Green and 49ers struggle to score and effectively run an offense, as they rank NO. 10 and 11 in C-USA scoring offense, respectively. Additionally, both the Mean Green and 49ers rank in the bottom four of C-USA in three-point shooting.
However, as the third and fourth-best scoring defenses in C-USA, they are both especially reliant upon their defensive prowess. For North Texas, 24.5 percent of their points per game come from points off turnovers while 22 percent of Charlotte’s points come from points off turnovers. They also share the same scoring margin and assists-to-turnover ratio: +2.9 and 0.8.
In such an evenly matched game, what would tip the scales in favor of one team? For Charlotte, placing emphasis on attacking the Mean Green’s perimeter defense and increasing Dara Pearson and 6’6” freshman center Angel Middleton’s time in the lineup to limit North Texas’ leading scorer, Anisha George, will give the 49ers a decisive edge.
The Mean Green have exhibited a vulnerability on perimeter defense against C-USA opponents. Against Marshall, the Mean Green allowed guards Kristen Mayo and Savannah Wheeler to score seven and five points over their respective points per game average. Furthermore, against FIU, the Mean Green gave up 20 points to guard Diene Diane, who averages seven points per game. During Christian Hithe’s four-game absence due to injury, junior guard Octavia Jett-Wilson has filled in admirably, averaging 13.25 points per game. Anticipate Wilson and fellow backcourt members Mariah Linney and Jada McMillian to be aggressive and assertive on offense against the Mean Green.
“All non-conference we talked about that it’s going to be somebody’s turn, [and] I think our kids have really bought into that,” Consuegra said. “We’ve won four out of our last five [games] without our second-leading scorer, Christian Hithe, who has been out with an ankle injury. We haven’t missed a beat. That’s a credit to our kids.”
Hithe’s status remains day-to-day entering the 49ers’ matchup against North Texas.
In the 49ers’ previous game against UTSA, Middleton saw her season-high in minutes. Anticipate Charlotte coaching staff to continue to increase Middleton’s playing time against the Mean Green’s dominant post player Anisha George.
Along with Middleton, Charlotte will likely call upon Pearson to carry a heavy workload guarding George. Additionally, playing bigs Middleton and Pearson will allow the 49ers to exploit the Mean Green’s weak defensive rebounding ability and create second-chance points.
Charlotte hosts North Texas on Thursday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m.