The Charlotte 49ers, hoping to build some momentum from their first Conference USA victory of the season, hit a particularly challenging part of their schedule beginning Thursday.
First-year coach Ron Sanchez’s 49ers (4-11, 1-3 C-USA) play five times over the next nine days, beginning with a home game Southern Mississippi (10-7, 2-3) Thursday at Halton Arena.
“Oof,” Sanchez reacted when asked about the stretch of conference games, which continues at home against Louisiana Tech on Saturday and Old Dominion on Monday, then resumes at Texas-San Antonio on Jan. 24 and at Texas-El Paso on Jan. 26. “We have a plan in place, and we’ll try to be smart about our bodies with how much impact and contact we have (in practice).
“We don’t want to lose our sharpness, so we’ll do everything we’ve done in the past, just condensed. We have to be more intentional in using less time, but not lose our level of aggressiveness, sharpness or competiveness.”
It is worth noting that Old Dominion might have it tougher than Charlotte, also playing at home Thursday and Saturday, then having to travel for Monday’s game against the 49ers.
Charlotte’s 65-60 victory last Saturday at Florida Atlantic stopped an overall six-game losing streak. It was also an affirmation of sorts for the defensive-oriented Sanchez and his young team, which has been forced to play two walk-on players after a spate of injuries cut into the rotation.
In Charlotte’s last three games – narrow losses against Marshall and Florida International and the victory against FAU – the 49ers have held their opponents to a combined 38.6 percent shooting.
“We’ve become a little unified on the defensive side of the floor,” Sanchez said. “As a group, we had defensive stops (against FAU) and that’s the reason we came out with the ‘W.’
“To watch us become one as a defense and more synchronized was a a true joy to me.”
▪ Charlotte senior point guard Jon Davis continues to lead C-USA in scoring with a 21.7 points-per-game average. Sanchez has asked Davis to try and improve in other areas, and Davis responded with a career-high nine rebounds against FAU. Davis is also hitting 87.0 percent of his free throws, fourth in the league..
▪ Sanchez said he hopes to have freshman guard Malik Martin back soon, possibly this week. Martin, the 49ers’ second-leading scorer (9.5 points per game) who has missed four games with a knee injury, has practiced this week.
▪ Sanchez will wear a green tie in the game against Southern Miss, not only to show Charlotte’s school colors but to support Coaching For Literacy, a program that raises awareness of childhood illiteracy.
▪ The 49ers women (10-6, 2-2) take a two-game winning streak into games at Southern Miss (Thursday) and Louisiana Tech (Saturday). The 49ers are getting 12.8 points 7.5 rebounds from Syracuse-transfer Jade Phillips and 11.5 points and 4.25 assists from senior point guard Laia Raventos.
“This is a really important week for us,” said coach Cara Consuegra. “What stands out to me right now is we still have a lot of room for improvement. That excites me, because it’s the middle of January and we know we can still get better.”
Raventos recently set Charlotte’s record for career assists and now has 244.