Women’s basketball eyes postseason return

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The women’s basketball team enters the 2017 season looking to reach the postseason after missing it last season for the first time in head coach Raegan Pebley’s three seasons.

The Horned Frogs return 10 players from last season, including three starters, senior Toree Thompson, junior Jordan Moore and sophomore Kianna Ray. Junior Amy Okonkwo, who averaged 10.2 PPG and started 14 games, also returns.

However, the team lost their top two scoring and assist leaders from last season in Jada Butts and AJ Alix, who each averaged over 12 points a game.

Pebley said in a press conference on Tuesday that the gap left by Butts and Alix at the guard position will be filled by a committee of players, naming freshman Lauren Heard and sophomores Amber Ramirez, Kianna Ray, and Jayde Woods specifically.

Pebley expressed her excitement for Heard, who led the team in scoring in their exhibition against Texas Wesleyan.

“[Heard] had a really good showing for the first time she’s put on the uniform at Schollmaier Arena,” she said. 

The team also returns all 5 players from its 2016 recruiting class plus redshirt freshman Adeola Akomolafe and Oregon transfer Woods, giving them a total of seven sophomores on the 2017 roster.

The group of sophomores are led by Ray and Ramirez. Ray started 28 games last season. Ramirez was the second-ranked guard in her recruiting class and a member of Team USA, but missed seven games as a freshman due to an injury.

“Kianna Ray has developed some confidence,” Pebley said. “Confidence as a scorer and we are going to continue to look for her to establish herself that way.”

Ray averaged 6.7 points per game last season.

Pebley also spoke highly about Ramirez.

“She is in some of the best shape she has been in in a long time and our team has been able to really gel with her,” she said.

Ramirez missed summer practices last season due to USA Basketball commitments and the preseason due to an injury. She totaled seven points and six assists as the starting point guard in the exhibition against Texas Wesleyan.

The Horned Frogs went 4-0 on their August trip to Australia, gaining an extra 10 practices and experience for their young core. Pebley called the trip “a chance to continue to grow them up,” as the seven sophomores look toward bigger roles in 2017.

“Ten practices is like a third of our entire preseason, so we got to add that on top of our preparation and then had the competition as well,” Pebley said.

Woods, who is ineligible to play until the end of the fall semester, impressed the coaching staff during their overseas trip.

“Jayde is really a special player. She is tough, physically, just mean, and I love that” Pebley said. “Not only was she a great defensive presence for us but also a really great scorer. She brought in the mid-range shot we were lacking last year.”

The team will be playing in a Big 12 Conference that features four teams in the initial AP Top 25 rankings, with Texas and Baylor ranked No. 2 and No. 3 overall.

“This is a league that could get six or seven into the NCAA tournament when it is all said and done,” Pebley said. “It is one of our strongest top to bottom years that we’ve had since I’ve been a part of the league.” 

Pebley also commended her team’s offseason focus.

“This group is all staying really committed to what we’re doing, the mission at hand, to each other, and I think speaks volumes to the chemistry in the locker room right now,” she said. 

The Horned Frogs officially open their season on Saturday against the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles at 2 p.m. in Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena.