Four of the Georgia Southern women’s basketball team’s first five games will be against major NCAA Division I programs.
GSU will begin its season at 5 p.m. today against Arizona at Hanner Fieldhouse. The Lady Eagles will play host to Georgia on Tuesday. They will play at Mercer on Thursday and at Alabama on Nov. 21.
“It’s a win-win as long as we learn from those early games and get better,” said GSU head coach Rusty Cram, who is 231-208 in 15 seasons. “They’re going to expose a lot of weaknesses that we can go back to practice and work on. If we play a Division II or an NAIA or something like that, if we win four or five in a row and then all of a sudden go play somebody that’s good, we haven’t learned anything.”
GSU finished 12-18 overall and 9-11 (seventh place) in the Southern Conference last season. The Lady Eagles, who return three starters, were picked to finish seventh in a preseason poll of the SoCon’s 11 head coaches this season.
Chattanooga led the voting with nine first-place votes, while Appalachian State received the other two votes.
“We were a little bit lower than I thought we would be but that’s OK,” Cram said. “I have no problem with it. We went through a very injury-type of year last season … once we get everybody out there 100 percent and healthy, it ought to be a pretty good year. That’s what we’re hoping.”
GSU is led by preseason All-SoCon selection Meredyth Frye, a 5-foot-10 junior guard who averaged a team-high 11.6 points last season. She grabbed 5.2 rebounds per game, which was second on the team.
“Meredyth Frye is a junior for us this year that everybody is going to be keying (on),” Cram said. “She plays every position for us. She’s going to play the point guard, maybe. She’s going to play the wing. She’s going to play the forward. She’s going to play a lot of different spots for us, which is what she’s always done. She’s who we start with.”
Senior guard Samantha Williams (7.5 ppg.) returns along with sophomore guard MiMi DuBose and senior guard Janay Wilson, who missed last season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Sophomores Britney Benzio (5-foot-11) and Danielle Spencer (6-foot-3) are projected as starters at forward.
“They’re sophomores this year, which is what the bulk of our numbers are,” Cram said. “They did play a lot last year as freshmen, so that experience, you can’t learn anywhere but on the court. That should prove valuable this year.
“Probably the biggest problem that we’re going to have is Jamie Navarro, a point guard the past four years, graduated. She was about as good a point guard as we’ve had in here. Steady. And now we have to find somebody new to run the program, the type of offense we run in the program. It’s like a quarterback. You’ve got to be able to make reads, get your team in the offense, complete plays, just be smart. And that just comes with time. You can’t hurry that. We’ve got to go with a new point guard who’s got to get that experience. And so that’s going to be the early struggle, I feel like.”
GSU will face an Arizona team that was 21-12 last season and advanced to the National Invitation Tournament, where they lost, 103-96, to Utah State. The Wildcats are led by two-time All-Pac-12 selection Davellyn Whyte, who averaged 15.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season.
Cram said GSU will struggle against its major Division I opponents, but he believes the lessons learned will benefit the Lady Eagles in SoCon play.
“Records are nice, but they’re not the most important thing at the mid-Division I level because in the Southern Conference, you have to win the tournament to get into the NCAA (tournament),” Cram said. “You could be 29-2 and lose in the (SoCon) championship game and we’re not going to the NCAA tournament. That’s just the way it is, the men and the women.
“So the record doesn’t mean what it would at a major Division I school. With that in mind, if we do get in the NCAA tournament, the teams we’re going to play are those very teams that we open up the year with.”
Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.