MONTICELLO — The Arkansas-Monticello women’s basketball team has a lot of experienced guards returning this season.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that head coach Tanya Ray thinks the backcourt will be the Cotton Blossoms’ biggest strength.
“I think we will be able to push the ball a lot more in transition,” Ray said. “We’ve got some guards who are good, which gives us an opportunity to score quicker in transition.”
Ray still thinks her post players have a lot of potential, just not much experience.
“Our biggest strength is our guard position,” she said. “We don’t have as much experience returning inside. …
“We have our biggest number of returnees (at the guard position). The posts just aren’t there yet.”
Ray believes the Blossoms have the versatility to change the starting lineup from game-to-game based on their opponent.
“I think we have enough depth that we can make a game-by-game decision on (our starting lineup based on) who we’re playing,” Ray said. “I think we have a chance to have a very versatile lineup.”
That lineup will be made up of six returners and six newcomers. The program actually brought in seven newcomers, but one of them — Southern Arkansas transfer Tori Nichols — will have to sit out this season due to intraconference transfers rules.
Ray said she has been impressed with how her returning players have embraced the team’s newcomers.
“It’s been really good,” she said of the team’s bonding. “Our returning players are really helping to bring the newcomers along.
“And for their part, the newcomers are listening and working really hard.
“I think we have a chance to be better than last year and a lot of that has to do with team chemistry.”
Last season, the Blossoms finished with a 6-21 record, including a 3-17 mark in Great American Conference play. UAM’s season ended in the first round of the conference tournament when it fell in overtime, 68-62, to No. 1 seed and eventual tournament champion Arkansas Tech.
The team returns their leading scorer from last year in sophomore Jordan Goforth, who averaged 12.8 points per game. The 5-9 forward from Plano, Texas was named GAC Freshman of the Year last season.
“Jordan had a really good season,” Ray said. “Hopefully, she can build upon that.”
The Blossoms’ next leading returning scorer is also a sophomore. Last season, Donlicia James averaged 7.3 ppg and a team-high 4.9 rebounds per game despite only starting nine games.
“Donlicia had a pretty goo freshman year,” Ray said. “She struggled a little bit at the end of the season.
“She’s just got to continue to improve upon her game.”
Ray said she has been impressed by the play of 5-6 sophomore guard Nikki Mullen.
“I’ve been very pleased with Nikki Mullen,” Ray said. “She’s more confident and I think she’s showed that so far throughout the preseason.”
Ray said she is looking forward to the improvement of Monticello native Crystal Reed.
“Her biggest impact early on will be on the defensive end,” Ray said of the 6-6 center. “Her conditioning needs to improve, though.”
A couple of newcomers fans should be excited to see are freshman guard Poohnu Perry and junior forward Brandae Carroll.
“We went out and got Poohnu Perry from Marked Tree High School,” Ray said. “She should be fun to watch the way she is able to push the ball.
“That’s something we really haven’t had that much of the past two years.”
Ray said of Carroll: “She has more of a face-up style. She’s quick off the dribble and she’ll be out there to stretch the defense.
“That’s the great thing about all the newcomers, they all give us different looks.”
UAM fans will get the chance to see the 2013-14 Blossoms at home for the first time on Saturday. UAM will host Lindenwood (Mo.) in its season opener at 2 p.m. at Steelman Fieldhouse.
After road games at LeMoyne-Owen (Tenn.) and Missouri S&T, UAM will open GAC play with a home game on Nov. 21 at 5:30 p.m. against Southwestern Oklahoma State.
On Oct. 22, the Blossoms were picked to finish eighth in the GAC’s preseason coaches’ poll.
“I think we have a pretty good women’s basketball conference,” Ray said. “I don’t put too much stock into (preseason rankings).
“You have to bring it every time you step on the floor. You have to do that night in and night out.”
Even still, Ray thinks UAM will see more success in her third season at the helm.
“I anticipate us having a much better year,” Ray said. “We have some new dimensions that should help us be more successful than a season ago.”
women’s basketball schedule
Nov. 9, Lindenwood (Mo.), home
Nov. 13, LeMoyne-Owen (Tenn.), away
Nov. 16, Missouri S&T, away
Nov. 21, Southwestern Oklahoma State, home
Nov. 23, Northwestern Oklahoma State, home
Nov. 25, West Florida, home
Dec. 5, Henderson State, away
Dec. 7, Ouachita Baptist, away
Dec. 17, Northwestern State, away (exhibition)
Dec. 19, Texas A&M-Kingsville, home
Dec. 21, Crowley’s Ridge, home
Jan. 2, East Central (Okla.)
Jan. 4, Southeastern Oklahoma State, home
Jan. 9, Southern Nazarene, away
Jan. 16, Arkansas Tech, away
Jan. 18, Harding, home
Jan. 23, Southern Arkansas, away
Jan. 25, Henderson State, home
Jan. 30, Northwestern Oklahoma State, away
Feb. 1, Southwestern Oklahoma State, away
Feb. 6, Southeastern Oklahoma State, away
Feb. 8, East Central, away
Feb. 15, Southern Nazarene, home
Feb. 20, Arkansas Tech, home
Feb. 22, Harding, away
Feb. 27, Southern Arkansas, home
March 1, Ouachita Baptist, home
Great American Conference championship tournament
• March 6-9, Bartlesville, Okla.