MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team opens its 2012-13 season tonight at Northwestern. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Welsch-Ryan Arena.
The season-opener against Northwestern is just the tip of the iceberg as the Skyhawks embark on the toughest schedule in recent history. The Skyhawks will open the home portion of their slate Monday, Nov. 12, when they host Arkansas State and then leave for a the Wahine Classic in Hawaii where they will play the host school, preseason No. 1 and defending national champions Baylor and perennial power Stanford.
Coming off its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament and its second Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship, the Skyhawks will build this year’s team around junior guards Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome.
Butler, a junior guard, was selected as the league's Preseason Player of the Year after leading the league and ranking fourth in the nation with 23.8 points per game. Butler was third in the NCAA with a conference-best 42.3 three-point field goal percentage. She is one of 25 players nationally to be named to the Preseason Wade Trophy Watch List.
Newsome, a junior guard, was named the 2011-12 OVC Player of the Year. She led the league with 6.0 assists and 2.7 steals per game while ranking second with 19.6 points each time out. Butler and Newsome combined for 1,386 of UT Martin's 2,563 points last season.
Fourth-year head coach Kevin McMillan says the challenge with this year’s team is going to be finding the right combination of players.
“It will be a slow process, but it is not like we started four years ago because we have five kids that have won two championships, but it is starting over, trying to figure out how to fit a team together,” Mcmillan said. “Right now it is going to take some time to get all those pieces to work in harmony.”
In the team’s only exhibition of the season, McMillan started Butler, Newsome, Megan White and seniors Shelby Crawford and Rickiesha Bryant. All five starters are returning players and have been part of two OVC Tournament championships.
The influx of newcomers was also seen as six of the seven new players who played accounted for 40 of the 96 points.
One of the newcomers, Cortice Golden, also known as Big Baby, scored 18 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. She was 7-of-8 from the field, 4-of-6 from the free throw line and she had one assist, three blocked shots and four steals.
“They call me Big Baby for two reasons,” Golden said. “When I was in middle school I would always whine to my momma about everything.” The other reason is Golden’s physical size.
“People often compare me to Danielle Adams who played at Texas A&M,” Golden said. “They say I create space like her and I am able to score at will like her.”
Adams palyed in the WNBA for the San Antonio Silver Stars this past season. She is listed at 6-1 and 239 pounds. She averaged 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in the recent playoffs.
While UT Martin looks for the right combination, Northwestern will be faced with a similar challenge.
All-Big Ten Honorable Mention and NU's leading scorer in 2011-12, Kendall Hackney is poised for her senior season, and sophomore Karly Roser looks to build off her first season at point guard.
The biggest storyline coming into the season is Northwestern's youth movement as five freshmen join the Northwestern roster this year. This freshmen class includes four players over 6-0 and 5-6 guard Nof Kedem from Olesh, Israel. The group also includes 6-2 forward Lauren Douglas from Collierville.