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Tigers must nail coaching hire if women’s team is to improve

Forward Alana Davis, the second leading scorer for the University of Memphis women’s basketball Tigers, kept it real after the team’s first round exit from the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

“I think that we have the talent to be really good next year,” said Davis, reflecting on the season after the Tigers (4-15), 2-11) lost by double digits (78-67) to the Cincinnati Bearcats (8-16, 6-12).

“But I think who will be coaching us will play a huge part in how far we go.”

For Davis and her teammates, a losing season weighted by the coronavirus pandemic also came with another rattling element – the in-season retirement (Feb. 13) of longtime head coach Melissa McFerrin after a 71-50 drubbing by Houston. Factor in a seven-game losing streak, including six by double digits, and one might wonder about the likelihood of the light Davis sees ahead.

Her guarded confidence largely is rooted in the fact that the Tigers will return nearly all of their talent from the season that just ended.

Forward Dulcy Mendjiadeu (MEND-JEE-A-DEW) averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds, leading Memphis in both categories for the second consecutive season while earning second-team AAC honors. Mendjiadeu and fellow senior teammates Davis and Keke Hunter gained the right to return for a final season after the NCAA granted student-athletes an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic.

Add to the returning mix sharpshooter Madison Griggs and point guard Aerial Wilson, who ranked No. 2 in the AAC in assists per game. Both are returning for their junior seasons. Guard Jamirah Shutes, who produced an outstanding freshman season in 2018, succumbed to injuries her last two seasons and will be looking to get all she can out of her final season of collegiate basketball.

When the UofM gets around to naming the new coach, the inherited roster also will include underclassmen committed to applying their talents and skills toward helping the Tigers break a string of five straight losing seasons. Callie Wright and En’Dya Buford possess largely untapped potential headed into their sophomore seasons.

Memphis guard Coriah Beck, who scored eight points in the Tigers’ loss to ECU, eyes a shot at two. (Photo: Terry Davis)

Freshman guard Coriah Beck, averaged eight points a game in her last nine games. She looked back and then ahead after the regular season’s final home game, a defeat at the hands of Tulane.

“It’s been a tough season for us, but one of the things our new coach will have to understand next season is that we are a group of fighters, and we will play hard regardless,” Beck said.

Incoming freshman guard Makaiya Brooks will bring the promise of a scorer. She averaged 24 points a game during her senior season at Central High School in Springfield, Missouri. Fellow rising freshmen Laurren Randolph, Aliyah Green and Hannah Riddick possess length and the ability to add depth to the roster.

Still, the coach who leads the team next season – and beyond – ultimately will determine how it measures up relative to potential.

 

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