Non-conference wins boosts women’s basketball team’s confidence

In mid-November, the Oakland University women’s basketball team had an 87-85 lead with 20 seconds left in its game against Penn State, only to see it slip away in an overtime loss, 96-89.

Despite the loss, head coach Beckie Francis and her team knew it could pay off later on as the team got further into its non-conference schedule.

“We were so angry that we gave up that lead in the last few minutes, but we were encouraged because it showed that we had the potential to pull it off,” Francis said. “The players refused to lose against Illinois.”

In that Illinois game on Dec. 8, the two teams had to go to overtime, but in the end, Oakland was able to pull off a 62-61 upset of the Fighting Illini.

Just 10 days later, OU won another game against a major-conference opponent, routing Clemson on the road 73-49. A 21-2 run by the Grizzlies helped turn the game in favor of Francis’ squad.

“Beating an ACC team on the road by 24 points is a huge testament to how much Oakland has been rising in both men’s and women’s basketball on a national radar,” Francis said. “It really helps the university in terms of national recognition.”

The Clemson victory, which came just four days after the men’s program-defining win over Tennessee, was the team’s first road win ever against an ACC opponent.

Two important players

Possibly the biggest key to continuing success is the play of sophomore Bethany Watterworth. The 5-foot-11 forward is averaging 19.5 points and 7.3 rebounds, leading the team in both statistics.

“Bethany is gaining more confidence every game,” Francis said. “She had a lot of confidence entering the season, but the fact that she’s putting up these kinds of numbers against really great players and people who are taller is really great for her and our


On the defensive side of the ball, the play of junior Brittany Carnago has been helping the Grizzlies win games this season.

In addition to averaging 6.7 points and five rebounds a game, Carnago is averaging more than three blocks per game.

After redshirting last year due to a serious knee injury, Carnago was just getting back into game shape when she suffered an ankle sprain early in the season.

Francis said that Carnago has finally recovered from the injury, and it showed in the Grizzlies’ Dec. 29 game against winless Centenary College in which she had 14 points, five rebounds, six blocks and three assists.

Key contributors

Contributions can come from any player at any time — a point that Francis is well aware of — and several players have come off the bench this season to help lead the team to victory.

“I think on any given night, different people are contributing,” Francis said.

“Elizabeth Hamlet and Kirstie Malone played great at Clemson, Zakiya Minifee and Malika Glover played great at Providence and Centenary; our new players are really stepping up. It’s just really good to see all of our players contributing.”

Minifee played her best collegiate game to date against Centenary, putting up 21 points and 10 rebounds to go with two assists and two steals.

“I was just thinking, ‘Wow, if Minifee can do this as a freshman, it’s going to be scary what she can do for four years,'” Francis added.

Rest of Summit League

With its win over Oakland on Dec. 31, Oral Roberts became the Summit League leader, improving to 4-0. They are hardly alone at the top, however; four other teams in the conference, including OU, have just one loss.

“In our league, (number) one through maybe eight, it’s really a toss-up. Western Illinois, who we have next on the schedule, played Oral Roberts to a two-point game,” Francis said. “Southern Utah knocked off South Dakota State and North Dakota State, so just going off preseason polls, that turns our league upside down.”

At the halfway point of the season, Francis isn’t sure how the rest of the 2010 schedule will play out, but she expects good things.

“If we continue to work hard and pray for no more injuries and a full squad, really good things can happen,” Francis said.

The Oakland women’s basketball team will play its next game on Saturday against Western Illinois. Tipoff will be at 3:30 p.m. in the O’rena.