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HBU women host A&M-Corpus Christi as crucial stretch run begins

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Before the current NCAA basketball season began, no one was quite sure what to expect from the Houston Baptist University women’s basketball program. But, most people didn’t expect a lot.

Coming off a three-year stretch that saw the team capture just 12 wins in 88 games during that span and having to adjust to a new head coach while beginning play in the Southland Conference, the consensus was that the Huskies were destined for a long, rough season.

Fast forward to this weekend.

With four games to go in the Southland Conference season, first-year head coach Donna Finnie has her team in the thick of the conference race for one of eight postseason tournament berths. The HBU women are also on the verge of equaling their win total of the last years combined, looking for their 12th win of the season.

The quest begins Saturday afternoon, when Texas A&M-Corpus Christi comes to Sharp Gym for the first meeting between the two teams this year. And the game has postseason implications.

The Huskies and the Islanders come into the game tied for the eighth and final spot in the Southland Conference Tournament.

If not for a heartbreaking 57-55 loss last Saturday to conference leader Central Arkansas, the Huskies might already be in the driver’s seat for a tournament seed.

HBU (11-14 overall, 7-7 SLC) shot just 22 percent from the field and scored just 23 points in the second half against UCA and surrendered a nine-point halftime lead.

But the loss only served to enhance the importance of Saturday’s game against A&M-Corpus Christi, as well as the rematch between the two schools next weekend in Corpus Christi.

The Islanders (14-11 overall, 7-7 SLC) have won four straight games, including two last week against Central Arkansas and preseason conference favorite Oral Roberts.

But Finnie, who was an assistant at HBU under previous head coach Mary Gleason, has revived the program and already led the team to its most successful season since the Huskies went 14-11 in 2006-07, their first season of NCAA Division I play.

Led by junior Shanice Steenholdt, who leads the Southland in conference scoring average, with 18.1 points per SLC game, HBU has increased their scoring output by almost 10 points per game over 2012-13. But Steenholdt has had a lot of help.

Sophomore guard Rachel Arthur contributes 11.3 points per game and junior forward Erin McGarrachan averages 9.6. Junior point guard Tayler Jefferson averages 7.6 points per game and leads the team with 97 assists.

Win or lose the rest of the way, the Huskies’ 2013-14 season has been a success. But there’s no indication the team is satisfied with where they are.

The game with A&M-Corpus Christi begins at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday at Sharp Gym on the HBU campus. All games can be heard on the website or on Legacy Sports Network. The school also offers live video streams of all home games.