Inside UH women’s basketball’s up and down season
Heading into the new season, the Houston women’s basketball team wanted to pick up on where they left off from its 2020-21 campaign.
Eight games into the season and falling to a 3-5 overall record with conference play on the horizon, the team’s start to the year was far from what head coach Ronald Hughey had in mind.
“At the beginning we were talking about unfinished business,” Hughey said. “After everything from last year and saying ‘you know what, we are going to pick it up from last year,’ but every year is a new year. That is what they failed to realize. By ‘unfinished business’, you have to pick things up from this year.”
Home victories over Jacksonville State and Louisiana after the following week brought the Cougars back to .500 on the season, but they weren’t finished there.
The Cougars won four more games and found themselves at 9-5 overall with a 2-0 record in conference play, riding on new momentum and meeting a fresh chance to make a run in the regular season.
Throughout the six game winning-streak, there was a lot of behind the scenes work being done on and off the court.
“It was really on our kids because they came together and said ‘let’s have a meeting,’” Hughey said. “We sat and talked things out, and everybody just let it all hang out, just being vulnerable. I started with myself and I can coach us better, prepare us better, plan better and put us in better positions to be successful. We just went around the room and everybody had a chance to get things off their chest and I think that brought us to a place where we could really begin to trust each other more, and it shows on the court.”
Sophomore guard Laila Blair has been one of many standout players for the Cougars this season, and her leadership is credited to her presence both on and off the court.
As important as it is to attain success on the court for the team, the Cougars’ unique approach to basketball and the season ahead of them keeps things in perspective.
“We don’t make basketball bigger than what it is. We have fun with it at the end of the day,” Blair said. “We laugh, tell jokes and spend time with each other outside of what we already have going on. Making our relationships bigger than just a sport has helped us lean on each other and dig ourselves out of that hole. I think mainly it’s just us building that chemistry and having fun with it.”
Missing the NCAA Tournament after losing in the second round of the conference tournament last season has set one of many goals for the Cougars this season.
“Being one of the First Four Out last year was a real sting to them,” Hughey said. “They are really fighting for that NCAA Tournament berth this year.”
The six game winning streak came to an end in heartbreaking fashion with a last minute loss against UCF, followed by a tough loss to Temple that has now led to a six-game losing streak.
Despite the losses, Blair acknowledged that it is part of the process, both in basketball and beyond.
“Even though it is heartbreaking to have those types of games like UCF, it’s definitely needed,” Blair said. “You have to be thankful that it is still the beginning of the season and the way I look at it, losses are only lessons. It is only going to help us continue to move forward and build off that loss so we can push forward because I know that we can spark up a streak again.”
Falling back under .500 on the season with a 9-11 overall record while 2-6 in conference play, the Cougars will need to spark another run to get back in the hunt and contend for conference regular season title as well as a high seed in the conference tournament.
A lot of basketball has yet to be played, but Hughey knows that the climb up the mountain will require more than what the Cougars can control.
“I think with those things, you need to have some luck,” Hughey said. “Injuries, COVID, taking care of their mental health, academics, all of it. I think if we have some luck on the other end of those things, I think we can be there right in the (conference) championship game. I definitely think we can be one of two or three (AAC teams) to get in the NCAA Tournament.”