Florida International U

FIU women’s basketball preview: Panthers pick up pieces without star Jerica Coley

Marita Davydova is back for the FIU Panthers.
Marita Davydova is back for the FIU Panthers. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

The basketball team in Miami recovering from the biggest single player loss might not play downtown next to Biscayne Bay but next to the Turnpike. Here’s what FIU women’s basketball lost when guard Jerica Coley finished her four years in college and went back to her education-based roots, as in graduate school:

The No. 5 all-time scorer in NCAA history, national scoring average leader each of the last two seasons, 42.7 percent of FIU’s scoring last year; annually FIU’s leader in scoring, assists, steals, blocks, minutes, floor burns and (twice) rebounding; a humble leader by example on the court, as a model honored student-athlete in the classroom, when dealing with the media and public.

So, yeah, big loss. But, in a way, the question FIU must answer remains the same after Coley as it was many nights with her putting up 20-25 points, eight rebounds, etc.: What else ya’ got?

In addition to losing Coley, forward Arielle Durant graduated and guard Kamika Idom left the program with one year of eligibility remaining. FIU coach Cindy Russo feels the leadership hole will keep the Panthers from winning unless it’s better filled by this year’s upperclassmen than she has seen so far.

“We definitely brought back a lot of experience,” redshirt junior guard Taylor Shade said. “So that gives us more balance as a team. Jerica definitely helped us out as guards. This conference is a guard-heavy type of conference, we have to set the tone.”

Shade’s shooting percentage numbers often acted as the Dow Jones Industrials for FIU’s fortunes last year. When Shade shot at least 40 percent from the field, the Panthers went 10-3. The Panthers’ run of upsets to the Conference USA tournament final last season began when Shade supported Coley’s usual 20 points with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Shade also handed out eight assists in a 85-65 boiling of Rice.

Though Shade started only eight of 33 games, she ended the season as FIU’s second-leading scorer at 9.5 points per game or exactly 20 behind Coley’s 29.5 points per game.

FIU’s does bring size. A year after mistakes by the previous Compliance department resulted in 6-3 Marita Davydova sitting out, the Panthers roster includes Davydova, a senior; 6-2 redshirt junior Brianna Wright; 6-1 sophomore Janka Hegedus; 6-0 senior Tynia McKinzie; 6-0 redshirt freshman Kiandre’a Pound, sister of former FIU football defensive tackle Andre Pound.

“Last year, we were a bit undersized being that Marita couldn’t play,” Shade said. “This year our post players have shown their presence. Tynia has stepped up tremendously in these first two preseason games. We’re just trying to get Marita back in the flow of things.”

Russo said about stressing the inside game more, “We’d like to, but they’re not posting up consistently. That’s got to be our strength. We don’t have a lot of great outside shooters.”

Russo felt losing Davydova, a Third Team All-Sun Belt player in 2012-13, upended any FIU inside-outside balance for much of the season and left them too reliant on Coley. After consecutive years making the postseason WNIT, FIU slumped to 12-17 before their Conference USA tournament run left them 15-18.

“All last season was horrible for me, especially the beginning. I couldn’t imagine how I could survive the whole season without basketball,” Davydova said. “I was still practicing with the team and tried to use the opportunity to get better.”

FIU women’s basketball at a glance

▪ Coach: Cindy Russo.

▪ Last season: 15-18 overall (7-10 Conference USA).

▪ Top players: Taylor Shade (5-6, Jr, PG), Zsofia Labady (5-10, Sr, G/F), Tynia McKinzie (6-0, Sr., F).

▪ Noteworthy: None of the returning Panthers averaged double-figure scoring and only Shade (9.5) and McKinzie (9.4) averaged over 5.0 points per game. Davydova averaged 9.8 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game in 2012-13.

Tonight: Tennessee Tech vs. FIU

When/Where: 5:30 p.m., FIU Arena

TV/Radio: None.

Records: This is the season opener for both.

Of note: Ohio Valley Conference member Tennessee Tech went 12-18 last season and among those 18 losses was a 70-65 home defeat to FIU.