With South Carolina defeating Mississippi State for the NCAA national championship on Sunday, the 2016-17 women’s college basketball season has come to an end.
For UT-Arlington, the Mavericks had an outstanding season and coach Krista Gerlich was beyond pleased from their performance.
The Mavericks, predicted to finish third in the Sun Belt Conference, ended the regular season second behind Arkansas Little Rock at 14-4 and 22-9 overall. In four seasons at the helm, Gerlich has taken UTA from 4, 17, 15 and 22 wins, which was two wins shy of the all-time program record.
UTA’s season ended in the first round of the NIT to Tulane, but it was the Mavericks’ first appearance since 2009, third overall. The Mavs also beat South Alabama in the SBC quarterfinals, the program’s first SBC tournament win.
“You’re never happy when it ends, but I’m really pleased with the season,” Gerlich said. “It speaks volumes of the direction we’re moving toward. There were a lot of firsts this year.”
Speaking of firsts, UTA had its best start to the season since 1977 after going 5-0 with wins over UT-San Antonio, Western Kentucky, Wichita State, San Diego State and Seton Hall. The five wins were already more than Gerlich’s first year with the Mavs (4).
This included the championship trophy at the Seton Hall Thanksgiving Classic on Nov. 27 with a 86-61 victory.
“Thought that was huge,” Gerlich said. “That was a moment when we absolutely knew we could take a step forward. Think it took our breath away, but we knew we could do really special things and were on the right track.”
UTA ended non-conference 7-3 and began SBC play 4-0 and 8-1. Two of its four conference losses came against Little Rock, which won the regular season title, and Troy, which won the conference tournament. The Mavs did beat Troy in the second meeting 78-72 on Feb. 23.
Junior post Rebekah VanDijk was named first-team all-conference after averaging team-highs 15.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, 41 blocks and 55.7 percent shooting.
“All the defense was centered around her, they prepared for her and she still nearly averaged a double-double,” Gerlich said. “Speaks volumes to her and her teammates.”
Junior guard Cierra Johnson, an LD Bell graduate, was named SBC Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 12.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, 93 assists and 93 steals in 30 games. Her 3.0 steals per game ranked her 14th in the nation.
“Cierra took her game to another level offensively,” Gerlich said. “We knew she was a great defensive player ever since she got on campus, but she really showed she was one of the best all-around players in the conference. I remember ESPN said she was the Russell Westbrook of our conference which is a huge compliment.”
“Freshmen stepped up and played really well and for what they did as freshmen, it was really a positive thing,” Gerlich said. “Christina and Crystal (combined 19.2 points per game) were scoring threats and gave us some depth.”
“Play of Allyson Te’o was phenomenal and we got every ounce we could get out of her. She really blossomed as a leader and program kid,” Gerlich said. “We have a great nucleus coming back with a lot of experience, with some added pieces and more depth. I’m really excited for next year.”