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Women’s basketball aims higher with veteran roster

<p>Senior guard Ariel Hearn will be counted on to help the Lady Tigers finish above .500 in 2015-16.&nbsp;</p>
Senior guard Ariel Hearn will be counted on to help the Lady Tigers finish above .500 in 2015-16. 

For the last three seasons, Memphis women’s basketball has been the definition of average.

Since the 2012-2013 season, the team has compiled a combined record of 47-48, and the Tigers have finished with between 14 and 17 wins in each of those three seasons.

But now, finally with a veteran roster and five returning starters, coach Melissa McFerrin says that now is the time for the team to make its run.

Memphis returns nearly all of its contributors from a season ago, including 96.8 percent of the team’s scoring. While teams in previous years suffered from a lack of experience, this one boasts three seniors and six juniors.

“Our colleagues voted us to finish seventh (in the American Athletic Conference), and I told our players, very honestly, that we earned that last year because of the inconsistency. And in order for us to make a move we can’t have the inconsistency in leadership and commitment to defense,” McFerrin said. “We have to own that, because that’s what we showed a year ago, and it’s up to us this year with this senior class and some of our juniors to make that change.”

Of the Tigers’ upperclassmen, none is more critical to the team’s success than senior guard Ariel Hearn. Last season Hearn led the team in both scoring and assists, with averages of 16.1 points and 3.25 dimes per game. Hearn has been a major scorer ever since she first set foot on campus as a freshman, but most important to the Tigers is how she’s evolved in other areas of her game.

“Ariel’s development over the course of her career has been really dramatic,” McFerrin said. “She came here as a freshman just as a scorer, and that’s how she saw herself and that’s what she gave us. In her sophomore year she started to get pretty committed to defense and also became a distributor. Last year she became a lockdown defender and distributed the ball even better. This year we’re asking her to be a leader.”

Hearn has been one of the best guards in the American Athletic Conference and was recently named to the all-conference preseason second team, but last year depth was what killed the Tigers. This season, it could turn into a strength for the team.

Memphis returns nine total letter winners from last year, and has further bolstered the roster through several junior college additions. Guards Loysha Morris and Alexis Robinson and forward Ashia Jones join the team as juniors, and McFerrin mentioned Morris in particular as a player who will really help out the Tigers with depth at the guard positions. Memphis also adds a pair of freshman in forwards Brianna Porter and Milena Bajic.

The Tigers begin the season with two home games, the first coming Nov. 13 against Jacksonville State, and the next coming two days later against Eastern Illinois. They’re two very winnable games that will be key towards starting the season on the right foot as Memphis aims for a more successful season, but to McFerrin they’re not any more important than any of the other 28 games on the schedule.

“It’s important that we get wins all through the season,” the seventh-year Tiger coach said. “We stubbed our toe a couple times last year, one being Southern Illinois on the road and our opening game against Temple. Southern Illinois was an early season game that made a difference and Temple was the first game of the conference, so we’ve got to understand that every game matters.”

Before the season gets underway, Memphis will host one warm-up game against Harding University on Nov. 5. Tipoff for that contest is set for 7 p.m. at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse.

Senior guard Ariel Hearn will be counted on to help the Lady Tigers finish above .500 in 2015-16. 

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