The Lady Raiders know they left a lot of questions unanswered last year, but they are ready to put all of the “what ifs” of the 2011-2012 season behind them.
Texas Tech women’s basketball had its first official fall practice on Tuesday, headlined by five returning seniors ready to forget some of last season’s struggles.
“We worked our butts off all summer about the what ifs, about the shoulda-coulda-wouldas and what we should have done,” senior guard Monique Smalls said. “We fixed it, we worked on it, we’ve had one-on-one individuals, people came in and took extra shots and (had) extra lifting.”
Tech finished last year 21-14 with a 6-12 clip in Big 12 Conference play, missing out on a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
The Lady Raiders were the No. 8 seed in the Spokane, Wash., regional in 2011, dropping their first and only game to nine-seed St. John’s.
With hopes of a repeat trip to the tournament last season, Tech started 14-0 and reached as high as No. 10 in The Associated Press poll before dropping nine of its final dozen Big 12 Conference games and accepting a bid into the National Invitational Tournament.
This year’s goal — as it is every year — is to make it back to the NCAA tourney, coach Kristy Curry said.
“Obviously we fell short a year ago,” said Curry, who enters her seventh season leading the Lady Raiders. “The year before, we got in. What was the difference? How can we grow from both those experiences to turn this one in and put an exclamation point on the finish?”
Curry pointed to the little things that went wrong last year, such as boxing out properly or grabbing a few extra points in each game.
At Tuesday’s practice, it was apparent Tech wants to get better with free throws. The Lady Raiders spent the end of practice shooting from the stripe, running suicides or floor-length sprints for each missed shot.
“Little things make a big difference in this league,” Curry said, “and the team that makes the fewest mistakes often is the most successful because basketball is a game of mistakes.”
Smalls echoed her coach’s statement about the little things, also pointing out some of Tech’s struggles on the line and on the floor, overall.
The Lady Raiders last season ranked last in Big 12 play in free-throw percentage (64 percent) and ninth in field-goal percentage (34 percent).
But Smalls is ready to wipe the slate clean with the mark of the new season.
The other four seniors on the squad — Casey Morris, Mary Bokenkamp, Christine Hyde and Chynna Brown — also want to look ahead to a new season, their last together in the scarlet and black.
“We’ve been through so much together, ups and downs,” said Morris, Tech’s leading returning scorer (10.1 points per game). “We know what it takes to be successful. So we’re all ready and we all know it’s our last year, our last chance to prove ourselves in the Big 12. So we’re all hyped and ready for the season.”
Tech lost seniors Kierra Mallard — the Lady Raiders’ top scorer — and Jordan Barncastle to graduation, but return the rest of last year’s team.
A handful of newcomers also are expected to fill some roles, with junior-college transfer Jackie Patterson already tabbed as the Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year, as voted on by the coaches.
Curry said Patterson, who played two years at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, is expected to rotate in at forward for the Lady Raiders, perhaps sliding into the center role as needed. Curry expects to see an immediate impact from the Frisco native.
Patterson said her offensive strength is her mid-range game, which she honed in Kansas to the tune of 16.1 points per game the last two seasons.
To play forward in the aggressive Big 12, Patterson said she needs to bulk up a bit.
“I need to get stronger,” said Patterson, who averaged 8.3 rebounds per game the last two seasons. “Well, a lot stronger so I can move people, because right now I’m like a toothpick. So I think I just need to get a little stronger, so I’ll continue to work hard in the weight room.”
The Lady Raiders begin the season Nov. 11 at Arizona State, but they have a home exhibition Nov. 4 against Midwestern State. A week before the exhibition, the Lady Raiders will scrimmage UTEP, Curry said.
In the meantime, the Lady Raiders will continue to work one day at a time, Curry said, with the ultimate goal still apparent.
“I don’t think there’s any question, we want to get to the NCAA tournament,” Curry, “and whether we’re hosting or not hosting, that’s always the No. 1 goal. When you get to that, a lot of things can happen.”
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