With the Memphis women’s basketball program wrapping up an 18-13 season with a six-point home loss to UT Martin in the first round of the WNIT, it would be easy to discredit the 2015-16 campaign as simply a slightly improved effort in a string of middling seasons.
That would be doing the Tigers a tremendous disservice.
If there’s one common theme for coach Melissa McFerrin’s team this season it’s that they continually faced adversity and fought back.
Memphis started the season 9-9 and appeared to be on pace for yet another season hovering at .500. Instead the Tigers rattled off nine wins over their final 11 games of the regular season — the best 11-game stretch for the program since the 2012-13 season.
In an American Athletic Conference matchup against Temple, the Tigers trailed by as many as nine points in the second half. They came back to win by three in an NCAA-record five overtimes at Elma Roane Fieldhouse in February.
And finally, in that WNIT opener vs. UT Martin Memphis endured nearly the most disastrous start possible, falling behind 31-11 midway through the second quarter before retaking the lead twice in the fourth and taking the Skyhawks down to the wire in what once looked like a blowout.
The Tigers even took down a ranked opponent in then-No. 15 USF this season, despite trailing by six midway through the fourth quarter. Guard Ariel Hearn played perhaps the best game of her four-year career in that contest, scoring 33 points and adding 10 rebounds, six assists and five steals, propelling Memphis to the upset victory.
Much like most of her career, Hearn was the driving force for the Tigers in the 2015-16 season, leading the team with 14.5 points, 3.9 assists and 2.2 steals per game. But unlike earlier in her career when she had the weight of the entire team on her shoulders, Hearn had help this year. Redshirt junior guard Mooriah Rowser finally became a consistent scorer, adding 11.1 points per game. Down on the block, Brianna Wright and Asianna Fuqua-Bey each averaged about nine points and seven rebounds per contest and were constant double-double threats.
In some ways it’s definitely fair to call Memphis’ season a bit of a disappointment, however. After the scorching run through the second half of the season the Tigers earned the fourth seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, but then fell in their first game to fifth-seeded Tulane. They earned the right to host a game in the WNIT, but then dropped it to UT Martin.
The Tigers’ 2015-16 season wasn’t perfect, but it marked a significant improvement over the last two seasons. Memphis fell in the first round of the AAC Tournament, but finished 12-6 in conference games in the regular season while going a combined 13-23 over the team’s first two years in the conference. The U of M fell in the first round of the WNIT, but it’s a testament to the program’s improvement that it made the tournament after being absent from the postseason for two consecutive years.
The Tigers certainly have their work cut out for them next season, with Hearn’s graduation leaving the team short a star, but much of the roster will be back next year, and the experience from this season could serve as a stepping stone for further improvement, rather than a slip back to mediocrity. Memphis ended the year with two straight losses, but that shouldn’t be what defines the season.
University of Memphis guard Ariel Hearn goes up for a layup against the UT Martin Skyhawks in their WNIT matchup Thursday. Hearn made the AAC all-conference team for the third consecutive season.