Oct. 28, 2013
HOUSTON--- The 2013-14 campaign will represent not only a new season, but also a new era of Houston Cougars women's basketball, as the team joins nine other schools in the inaugural season of the newly formed American Athletic Conference.
The Cougars end their 17-year Conference USA stint with three conference championships, three NCAA Tournament appearances, three WNIT showings, eight winning seasons, and an overall record of 249-258, while posting an all-time league mark of 125-137.
Houston finished strong in its final year in C-USA, boasting a 10-game improvement from the previous season and claiming double-digit wins for the fifth time in the last six years, as it ended the year with a 13-17 overall record, while claiming a conference mark of 7-9, which was a five-game improvement from the 2011-12 season.
Despite losing the program's all-time assists leader and the leading scorer from a year ago in Porsche Landry, Houston returns a wealth of experience, welcoming back four starters and nine letterwinners overall from last year's squad.
"I've said it before, I absolutely love these kids and I love this team," said head coach Todd Buchanan. "I love the chemistry this team has. This is very tight-knit group, they get along on and off the court, so I'm really excited about that part of it."
Buchanan, the 2011 Conference USA Coach of the Year, hopes this year's veteran-filled roster will prove to be beneficial, as the Cougars are equipped with five seniors, two juniors, five sophomores, and just two freshman in what arguably is the most experienced and deepest team he's had while at Houston, with five players averaging seven points or more last season.
Buchanan's fourth squad at Houston may also be one of the tallest he's coached, as the team averages nearly six feet with nine players standing at 6-0 or taller.
"In the four years that I have been here, this is definitely the tallest team we've had," said Buchanan. "Now that we're in the American, we're actually probably going to be a smaller team compared to most of our opponents, so that's another reason we're trying to build on my philosophy of using our speed, quickness, and athleticism to make up for our size."
Returners include guard Bianca Winslow (sophomore), guard Alecia Smith (sophomore), center Yasmeen Thompson (senior), guard Jessieka Palmer (sophomore), forward Marche' Amerson (sophomore), forward Marissa Ashton (senior), center Mae Woods (senior), forward Te'onna Campbell (senior), forward Tyler Gilbert (sophomore), in addition to senior forward Destini Texada and freshman forward Taylor Gilbert, who both redshirted last season.
The Houston backcourt obviously has a huge hole to fill, as it loses 2013 Conference USA All-First Team selection Porsche Landry, but the Cougars return a trio of sophomore guards that are more than capable of filling the void after playing a full season in coach Buchanan's up-tempo system.
This group is led by Alecia Smith who was tied for fourth on the team in scoring and ranked second on the squad in assists, as she averaged 7.8 points and 1.8 assists per game as a true freshman. She also served as the team's biggest threat from distance, as she connected on a team-leading 38 three balls last season. Smith quickly showed fans just how bright the future of Houston basketball is, as she went off for a career-high 23 points and nailed seven three-pointers on Feb. 2 vs. Tulane, garnering her Conference USA Player of the Week honors for that week.
The Cougars also welcome in two new faces at the guard position this season in local Texas standouts freshman Alexia Sanders and junior college transfer Demetria Foreman. Sanders comes to Houston from nearby College Park High School in The Woodlands where she earned District 14-5A MVP honors her senior season after leading the team in scoring (20.1 ppg), rebounding (7.0 rpg), steals (4.1 spg), assists (2.7 apg), and blocks (1.0 bpg).
Foreman could prove to be a valuable asset in the backcourt, as she transfers from Angelina Junior College, where she averaged 12.8 points and 3.2 assists per game, while shooting 40 percent from the field last season. She was also named to the all-conference team and earned NJCAA All-Tournament team honors.
"Demetria Forman brings that two years of junior college experience under her belt, and that's who we want to eventually go with at point guard," said Buchanan. "Bianca Winslow also continues to get better every single day, and of course we have Alecia Smith who can really shoot the ball well for us. At the end of the day, we're all in this together, so the backcourt spots are going to be filled via committee anyway."
When breaking down the 2013-14 Cougars, there's no better place to start than in the frontcourt, as sophomore forward Marche' Amerson returns as Houston's second-leading scorer from a year ago, posting 9.1 points per game, while earning a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman Team and conference player of the week honors on two separate occasions.
Amerson wasted no time getting acclimated to the college game, as she set a Houston freshman record by starting in all 30 contests and was one the Cougars' top shooters in league play, as she put in 3.7 field goals per game and connected on 14-of-39 three pointers for 36 percent over the final 17 contests of the season. She also tallied 10 or more points in five of the final seven games of the season.
The lengthy 6-foot-1 swingwoman is one of the most versatile players on the team, as she has the size to play a forward and owns the handles to play the guard position if needed. While she's only a sophomore, Amerson looks to be one of the team's leaders on and off the court this season.
"I love the kid to death," said Buchanan. "I love her game and she's going to get better. She's gotten stronger and she's healthy now, that's the big thing. I've been very impressed the way she's gone through her rehab and how she's been able to bounce back. Consistency is going to be big for her. She needs to have a great sophomore campaign for us to be where we need to be and have the success we want to have this season."
Thompson enters the new season as Houston's biggest presence down low, as she led the team last season in rebounding (8.5 rpg) and blocks (1.4 bpg), while starting in 29 of 30 contests in her first year with the program. Her .553 field goal percentage last season led the conference and was ranked as the 10th best in school history. In addition, she also posted a team-best five double-doubles, while she ranked second in the league in blocks per game and her rebounding numbers were sixth best.
The 6-foot-2 center earned Conference USA Player of the Week honors for the week of Nov. 26 last season, after she averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds, while shooting 84 percent from the field in three games vs. McNeese State, Southeast Missouri, and Northwestern State.
"Yasmeen was very productive from a rebounding standpoint last year and for several months into the season she led the nation in field goal percentage," said Buchanan. "With that being said, we need to get her more opportunities. When you have a player that's shooting 50-plus percent from the field, you've got to get her the ball more. She's going to be a huge part of our offense this season."
Campbell represents the fourth and final returning starter from a season ago, as she looks to establish herself as one of the best defensive players in the American. The 5-foot-10 forward led the team in steals (2.5 spg) and ranked second on the squad in rebounding, averaging 8.2 boards per contest a year ago. Her steals per game were good enough for fifth in the conference and 70th in the nation.
"Te'onna just brings an incredible amount of positive energy to the floor, said Buchanan. "I think that's the first thing you automatically see with her. She's a specimen of an athlete and can certainly score, but if we're honest her shot is sometimes suspect. She's put in a lot of time and work over the summer and I think now is her time to shine."
Senior transfer forward Destini Texada is finally primed for her first full season in a Houston uniform after having to sit out the majority of last season due to injury. Texada follows coach Buchanan from Houston Baptist, where he was able to coach her for multiple seasons. Texada proved to be a major contributor under Buchanan while at HBU, as she averaged 10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.3 steals per game over 57 games played there.
The two-time Great West Second-Team selection will be a key weapon off the bench in 2013-14.
"It's been a long time coming when you talk about Destini," Buchanan said. "We spent a lot of time recruiting her and I think the move to redshirt her last year is going to pay off for us now that we know she's going to hopefully get a full year under her belt this season. It looks like she's going to be injury free by the time we tip off the season, so that excites us a lot."
Texas Tech transfer forward Marissa Ashton enters to the new campaign as one of Houston's most dependable scoring options, as she sported 7.3 points and five rebounds per game last year in her first season with the Cougars. Ashton shot 34 percent (83-244) from the field, including 30 percent (30-100) from beyond the arc.
Senior center Mae Woods returns for her fourth and final year as a Cougar. Woods currently stands as the tallest player on the roster at 6-foot-4 and shot 57 percent (4-7) from the field last season.
Forwards Tyler Gilbert (sophomore) and Terran Alford (junior) round out the returning frontcourt players for the Cougars. Alford hopes to work her way back into the rotation this season after missing the final 18 games of the season last year due to injury, while Gilbert also aims to claim a larger role after averaging less than three minutes per game in 2012-13.
Twin sister Taylor Gilbert (freshman) looks to make her Cougar debut this season after redshirting last year.
2013-14 will be a season of firsts for the Cougars, as the team joins its third conference in what will be the program's 39th season, as they travel to the new American Athletic Conference with three previous teams from the old Conference USA in SMU, Memphis, and UCF. Houston will also play four programs for the first time in school history this season in Kent State, Rutgers, Temple, and defending National Champion UConn.
Fifteen home games and 14 contests against postseason teams from a year ago highlight the 2013-14 slate for the Cougars.
Buchanan has constructed another exciting and challenging non-conference slate that features four postseason teams from a season ago and four matchups against opponents from the Southeastern Conference and the Pac-12, including in-state foe Texas A&M. Six of the 11 non-conference affairs will be held at Hofheinz Pavilion, including games vs. Texas A&M, Washington, and the team's season opener vs. Mississippi State on Nov. 8.
Houston will also host its annual David Jones Memorial Classic, honoring the late assistant coach, where it will welcome in Kent State (Nov. 30) and Prairie View A&M (Dec. 1) to Hofheinz Pavilion.
"Obviously our schedule is probably going to be one of the toughest in the country, but when these schedules are made, they're done years in advance so there was really no way to anticipate our move to the American," said Buchanan. "With that being said, at the end of the day these games are going to hopefully prepare us so that when we walk into a place like a Connecticut or a Louisville we won't be shocked over overwhelmed."
For the fourth straight season, the Cougars will open up the conference slate at home, hosting its first ever American Athletic Conference affair vs. UCF on Dec. 28.
Houston will play all nine members of The American in a home-and-away series with the home games as followed: UCF (Dec. 28), USF (Dec. 31), Cincinnati (Jan. 11), Louisville (Jan. 21), SMU (Jan. 25), Temple (Feb. 4), Rutgers (Feb. 11), UConn (Feb. 22), and Memphis (March 1).
With UConn and Louisville ending the 2013 season ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in the USA Today Coaches' Poll, the Cougars potentially have an opportunity to host a top-five opponent for the first time since hosting No. 2 Georgia on Dec. 5, 1999. The Cougars have hosted the nation's top-ranked team in Hofheinz on four occasions, all against Texas (1987, 1986, 1985, 1984).
"The new conference really gives us several things, and they're all very positive," Buchanan said. "It gives us incredible recognition and it really allows us a great opportunity to compete for postseason play because with the non-conference schedule we're playing, now coupled with the AAC slate, we're going to have one of the top RPIs in the nation. If we finish somewhere around .500 or better, we're more than likely going to be in some sort of postseason. Our schedule gives us an opportunity to be successful, now we just have to go play."
The 2014 American Athletic Conference Basketball Championship will be held at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on Friday, March 7 through Monday, March 10. All 10 teams in the league will participate in the championship with seeding based on regular-season finishes. The top four seeds will receive byes to the quarterfinal round.
The tournament winner will earn the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Championship. The semifinals will be televised on ESPNU, while the championship will be on ESPN or ESPN2. First round and quarterfinal games will be televised, with specific coverage plans to be released.
The conference's women's basketball tournament has been one of the nation's strongest and most successful. Previously held in Hartford, Conn., the BIG EAST Women's Basketball Championship was the nation's attendance leader for nine straight years. The tournament produced 23 NCAA Final Four appearances, including Louisville and Connecticut in 2013, and nine national champions, including the Huskies' title this past season.