No matter how this season turns out for the Tennessee Martin women’s basketball team, the Skyhawks aren’t afraid of a challenge.
They started the season with a six-point loss at Saint Louis, then traveled to No. 10 Mississippi State and got clobbered 82-46.
Now they’re coming to Spokane for a Thursday night game at Gonzaga, which isn’t looking past UT Martin’s 0-2 record ahead of its own challenge on Sunday at No. 3 Stanford.
“We have to be ready for this one,” GU coach Lisa Fortier said. “I know that Stanford is after that, but this is not a game where you just show up and win.
“They’re really athletic, really quick and they get after you and force a lot of turnovers.”
Fortier also believes that the Mississippi State game “isn’t super-telling” in showing UT Martin’s athleticism.
The Skyhawks also are a veteran squad, returning four starters from a team that went 23-9 overall, 13-5 in the Ohio Valley Conference and fell one game short of an NCAA Tournament berth.
Officially known as the University of Tennessee at Martin, the school has competed at Division I since 1992.
Since Kevin McMillan took over the program 10 years ago, the Skyhawks have won eight OVC titles, either in the regular season or in the conference tournament.
They’ve generally played second fiddle to Belmont in the OVC and haven’t reached the NCAAs since 2014.
One of the youngest teams in the nation last year, UT Martin returns 12 players but no seniors. A decorated group of juniors includes guard Zaire Hicks (who had a team-high 12 points at MSU), Chelsey Perry, Maddie Waldrop and Demi Burdick.
Perry and Waldrop, both 6-foot-2 forwards, made the All-OVC preseason team this year. Waldrop, who figures to offer a challenge in the paint, averaged 8.0 points and 7.3 rebounds last season.
“The junior class has to be our senior class,” McMillan said. “Their leadership and ability to lead from a junior class perspective will be key. I am anxious to see the ownership they take over themselves.”
For GU (1-0), the game offers a chance to build on Sunday’s 92-48 win over Cal State Bakersfield, a wire-to-wire affair that still offered some room for improvement.
“We’re muddling things up a little bit” in the offense and “getting ourselves into weird positions sometimes,” Fortier said.
The weird part of the game is the tipoff time: 7:30 p.m. GU hosts USF in a volleyball match in the Martin Center at 5 p.m. Because the building is connected to the McCarthey Athletic Center, fire codes and other considerations prevent the events from overlapping.
“So we volunteered to move,” Fortier said. “I’m hoping it’s not past everyone’s bedtime, because we need some fans.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.