Rick Pietri is making a strong push for coach of the year through the Jacksonville State athletic programs. He’s brought energy and passion to a sport and program that had been scraping the bottom of the barrel the past few years.
The women’s basketball team is in the midst of a three-game winning-streak, and if that doesn’t seem impressive, may we remind you of the 28 games a season ago, JSU won only one… just one.
The Gamecocks are 9-14 following their 69-65 victory over Austin Peay on Monday night. The past two seasons combined for JSU under a previous coach produced a record of 5-52. However, for Pietri, this is nothing new.
Coach Pietri was hired from South Alabama over the summer. Through 13 years Pietri become the winningest coach in Lady Jags history and transformed the program into constant winner while winning multiple conference championships in the Sun Belt.
But Rick Pietri built that, all of that. Prior to his arrival at USA, the Jaguars hadn’t had a single winning season in over a decade. Just over a decade later he left with 220 wins on his resume.
Now he’s transforming Jacksonville State. The players are having more fun, they say practice is more exciting and the games have to be now that they have a chance to win them. While getting the feel for his new team, the Gamecocks got out to a 2-9 start on the season.
However, that did come to tough competition which included visits to Ole Miss and Auburn. Since then, JSU has posted a 7-5 and is currently
riding a three-game win streak after road wins at Murray State and Austin Peay last weekend.
The Gamecocks started 0-4 in OVC play, but have won five of their last six to even the conference record at 5-5.
Candace Morton has led throughout the season, but she’s now receiving more assistance on offense. During the first four OVC games Briana Benson and Miranda Cantrell averaged 4.2 and 7.5 points a game where in the last six they’ve both averaged just over 11.
Shooting in general has improved as the 38 percent field goal shooting through the first four has improved to 42 percent throughout the last six. Still, one of the largest factors may be the ball control. JSU was allowing 16 turnovers and only forcing 4 steals, where the numbers are now down to only ten turnovers and up to six steals. So where JSU was giving the opponent 75 percent more possessions off turnovers, that percentage is down now to only 40 percent.
Coach Pietri’s squad has six games remaining and is now fighting for a spot in the conference tournament which would be their first time reaching the postseason since 2010.
The vibe is certainly different surrounding women’s basketball and The Pete is drawing a larger crowd earlier now as fans don’t just trickle in late to catch the men’s game if it follows.