They’re playing these games to win.
The Lady Owls’ non-conference slate is setting up to be a challenge for first-year coach Nitra Perry, the former Toledo assistant hired in April to replace longtime coach Colby Tilley.
Kennesaw State is only losing one senior starter — Tamasha Bolden — from a team that finished 14-17 in 2011-12 but made history by winning its first A-Sun tournament game with a come-from-behind 51-49 win over North Florida. The Lady Owls are expecting to return the bulk of last year’s roster, and Perry said she’s eager to take the team to the next level, starting in November.
One week after hosting Southern Poly in an exhibition, the Perry era at Kennesaw State will open in earnest Nov. 9 in the Preseason’s Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
The opponents the Lady Owls will face, not to mention the locations of the games, have yet to be announced, but Perry said the Lady Owls could be facing teams like Georgetown, Iowa, North Carolina, Duquesne and Memphis, four of which either qualified for last year’s NCAA tournament or postseason WNIT.
The preseason WNIT continues through Nov. 16, sandwiching a road game Nov. 13 at Georgia Tech, an NCAA tournament team and last year’s Atlantic Coast Conference runner-up.
“These are the teams that stood out to me,” Perry said of the WNIT. “They will be great preparation for Georgia Tech. These will not be games for us to use as a gut-check — we’re going there to try to win.”
After its WNIT matchups, and its game at Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State’s home opener will come Nov. 21 against Troy, a Sun Belt Conference team coming off a two-win season in 2011-12.
Then comes a month-long road trip for the Lady Owls, who will visit Wofford (Nov. 24), Jacksonville State (Nov. 28), Georgia State (Dec. 2), UNC Asheville (Dec. 13) and Texas State (Dec. 18) before opening a five-game homestand at the KSU Convocation Center on Dec. 21 with Georgia Southern.
The Lady Owls will host former Atlantic Sun rival Gardner-Webb on Dec. 28 before A-Sun play gets under way at home three days later against defending tournament champion Florida Gulf Coast.
Kennesaw State will face each conference team twice with the exception of Belmont, which left the conference to join the Ohio Valley Conference. Meanwhile, the Lady Owls will get their first look at Northern Kentucky, a former Division II school joining the A-Sun from the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
Kennesaw State had been an up-tempo favored team in recent years under Tilley, but it also run half-court sets. Perry, who favors the full-court press, is intent on raising the speedometer.
“The key to our success is them buying in,” Perry said. “They play a totally different style than what I’m used to. I’m used to us running up and down and having a fast style of play.”
Kennesaw State will be returning point guard Taylor Mills, the A-Sun Freshman of the Year, and senior Sametria Gideon. The two averaged a combined 23.3 points per game last season.