CLEMSON — Audra Smith smiles when she hears her players chatting it up in the locker room or at the cafeteria or around the dormitories.
CLEMSON WOMEN’S BASKETBALL
A closer look
LAST SEASON: 9-21, 5-13 (t-11th ACC)
COACH: Audra Smith, first season at Clemson, 138-138 in 9 seasons
PLAYERS TO WATCH: F Quinyotta Pettaway, 6-3, sr. (10.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg); G Nikki Dixon, 5-10, jr. (12.7 ppg, 2.2 spg)
NOTABLE: The Tigers lost their first six games last winter, and never truly found their footing. With nine returning rotation players, they should feel rejuvenated by a peppy new coach.
She’d like to hear more of it on the court.
8—Davidson, 4 p.m.; 10—Wofford, 2 p.m.; 17—Cal State Northridge, 1 p.m.; 20—South Carolina, 7 p.m.; 24—at South Florida, 2 p.m.; 27—Radford, 7 p.m.
1—North Florida, 2 p.m.; 5—at UNCG 7 p.m.; 14—S.C. State, 2 p.m.; 19— at UNLV, 5 p.m.; 20—Creighton, 7:30 p.m.; 21—Oregon State, 5 p.m.; 29—Middle Tennessee, 2 p.m.
2—at NJIT, 7 p.m.; 5 at Notre Dame, 2 p.m.; 8—Georgia Tech, 7 p.m.; 12—Pittsburgh, 2 p.m.; 16—at North Carolina, 6 p.m.; 20—Wake Forest 7 p.m.; 23—at Syracuse, 7 p.m.; 26—Miami, 2 p.m.; 30—at Georgia Tech, 7 p.m.
2—at Virginia, 2 p.m.; 6—Duke, 7 p.m.; 9—at Maryland, 2 p.m.; 13—NC State, 6:30 p.m., 16—at Pittsburgh, 2 p.m.; 20— Boston College, 7 p.m.; 23— Florida State 2 p.m.; 27— at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m.
5-9— ACC tournament, Greensboro, N.C.
Entering her first year as Clemson’s women’s basketball coach, Smith inherits all five starters from last season’s squad, plus four other letterwinners and an eligible transfer.
While the Tigers have a solid bond away from the baskets at Littlejohn Coliseum, it’s got to arrive inside the sidelines.
“We’re building it. It’s there,” Smith said. “If they like each other and hang out together off the court, then the on-court chemistry is easy. They have a good time together and genuinely care about each other.
“But within that, we’re teaching them some different things in terms of, they have to be more vocal. That will take a little bit of time, but they’re buying into that.”
Former Clemson point guard Itoro Coleman was relieved of her duties as the Tigers’ head coach in the offseason, following three years with a 25-63 record. Smith was brought in after a nine-year stint at UAB, recording a 138-138 mark but 57-39 the past three seasons.
Smith’s calling card is defense, and that’s what she’s working on diligently with the undersized Tigers.
“We have to do a better job of containing penetration,” Smith said. “Also, we have to do a much better job of boxing out and keeping people off the board, preventing second- and third-chance opportunities.”
While Clemson was in the middle of the ACC pack last year in defense, its 54.4 points per game was the conference’s second-worst offense. Its 25.3 percent 3-point shooting was dead-last in the league.
“I know that will get better in time, because we’re running a completely different system,” Smith said. “I’m trying to keep it simple, because we have quite a few kids on the perimeter that can create their own shot. I want them to play loose and free, and create some things within the offense.”
The best player at Smith’s disposal is 6-3 senior Quinyotta Pettaway, who nearly averaged a double-double last year (10.8 points, 8.9 rebounds) and serves as the Tigers’ best forward amidst several capable guards.
“I expect her to be a catalyst for us offensively in the post,” Smith said. “She’s a long, lean, athletic kid that can get out and run in transition, very good offensive rebounder, finishes well around the basket. She can definitely be that back line for us defensively.
“I’m expecting her to step up, take charge and put this team on her back as a senior.”