Georgia Southern women’s basketball head coach Rusty Cram wants his team to learn lessons by playing major NCAA Division I teams Arizona, Georgia and Alabama early this season.
The Lady Eagles’ first lesson came Friday night during an 88-46 loss to Arizona in both teams’ season opener at Hanner Fieldhouse.
“I don’t know if I can get them all in right now. There’s a bunch of them,” Cram said of the lessons he hopes his team absorbed in front of a crowd of 1,042. “The biggest thing that we, as a coaching staff, felt was we picked up the intensity a little bit more in the second half. We were a little more aggressive. We were too passive in the first half. We were scared to death, and it showed.
“We couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. We weren’t defending well. There were too many open perimeter shots. We just weren’t being physical. We were intimidated, to be honest with you, and it was pretty obvious. They stepped up in the first half, and they took it to us.”
GSU (0-1) and Arizona (1-0) played each other for the first time in the history of the two programs. The Wildcats led, 48-16, at halftime. They were powered by two-time All-Pac-12 selection Davellyn Whyte, who scored a game-high 17 points.
The Wildcats finished 15-of-24 on 3-point-shooting attempts. Shanita Arnold had 16 points, Candice White added 13 points, Erica Barnes chipped in 11 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, and Erin Butler finished with 10 points. Whyte and Arnold made four 3-pointers apiece.
Arizona, a member of the Pac-12 Conference, snapped GSU’s streak of 11 victories in its home openers. It was the Lady Eagles’ first loss in a home opener since falling to McNeese State on Nov. 11, 1998.
GSU guard Meredyth Frye scored a team-high 12 points and grabbed a team-high five rebounds. After the game, she wore a bandage across the bridge of her nose to cover a cut she sustained during the first half.
“I’m not sure what hit me, but it started bleeding,” she said, smiling.
Frye said Arizona’s physicality was evident “in rebounding, on defense. It was everywhere on the court.”
Frye, a junior who was named to the All-Southern Conference preseason team, said she learned she is more of a target for other teams’ defenses this season.
“This game let me know how much more physical it’s going to be this year, how people are going to guard me,” she said. “I’ve got to take it to the hole a lot harder than I did last year.”
GSU, which was picked to finish seventh in a preseason poll of the SoCon’s 11 head coaches, finished seventh last season with a record of 12-18 overall and 9-11 in the league.
The Lady Eagles will play host to the University of Georgia at 7 p.m. Tuesday. GSU will travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Nov. 21 to play the Crimson Tide.
“We saw some good signs, some chemistry, some different people that played well together on the floor, so that will help us,” Cram said. “The biggest thing it goes back to is being aggressive and being confident in the things that we do.”
Cram said he was pleased with the way freshman guard Anna Claire Knight, sophomore guard MiMi DuBose and Frye played together.
“And Tashayla (Steede), the freshman post, came in during the second half and really stepped up her game and looked pretty good inside,” Cram said.
Arizona was 21-12 last season and advanced to the National Invitation Tournament, where it lost, 103-96, to Utah State.
Friday’s game was a homecoming for Arizona’s trainer, Bryce Sorrier, a Statesboro native. Arizona head coach Niya Butts is from Americus. Sophomore guard Candice Warthen and video coordinator Jaamal Rhodes are from Warrenton. Assistant coach Brandy Manning attended Clark Atlanta University.
Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.