Women's Basketball Preview: Arkansas-Pine Bluff
2016-17 Record and Finish: 12-18 (9-9 SWAC); Lost in SWAC Tournament Quarterfinals
Key Returners: G Destiny Brewton, F Faith Ohanta, C Shawntayla Harris, G Malaik Muhammad, G Ajia Richardson
Key Losses: F Niya Head
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – With the expected return of a upperclassman-laden core that consists of the vast majority of last season’s key contributors, the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Lady Lions come into the 2017-18 campaign with quite the chip on their shoulder.
Finishing tied for fifth in last year’s Southwestern Athletic Conference standings and nearly upsetting then-defending champion Alabama State in the quarterfinals, preseason predictions have slotted coach Nate Kilbert’s group to finish seventh. But for a team set to bring back almost every bit of last season’s production, the Lady Lions believe that those prognostications are far too low.
UAPB must replace its leading scorer from 2016-17 in Niya Head, but there’s proven experience at every other spot on the court. Destiny Brewton (9.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.4 SPG) returns to run the show for the Lady Lions at point. Surrounding her in the backcourt are Malaik Muhammad and Ajia Richardson. If Muhammad and Richardson can become a bit more consistent in their shooting from the floor, UAPB could field one of the more underrated guard corps in the conference.
Second-team Preseason All-SWAC center Shawntayla Harris (6.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.4 BPG) will look to bump her numbers her to help UAPB absorb Head’s graduation as well as make good on preseason expectations. If Harris is able to assert herself as one of the SWAC’s premier centers – in a league without many proven interior forces – she offers a potential match-up nightmare for the Lady Lions to exploit as the season progresses.
Perhaps the most important piece of development to watch is also at the forward spot, where Faith Ohanta (8.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG) flashed as one of the tougher players to handle on the court down the stretch of last season. As a frontcourt player with some range – Ohanta knocked down roughly 30 percent of her threes last year – a big senior season from her could be the catalyst for the Lady Lions emerging as a legitimate contender to the SWAC crown.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s out-of-conference schedule features contests at Texas Tech (Nov. 19), Dayton (Nov. 25), Nebraska (Dec. 2) and Iowa (Dec. 9). The Lady Lions begin the 2017-18 slate at home versus Tougaloo College on Nov. 10.