CLEMSON — Entering her third season at Clemson, women’s basketball head coach Audra Smith always understood she would be majoring in construction management for a while.
Challenges lay ahead for the Tigers, including a home game with in-state rival powerhouse South Carolina Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Jervey Gymnasium followed by a daunting run through the ACC schedule. But even if the Tigers don’t immediately build a skyscraper in the standings, Smith feels confident she’s got a foundation in place.
“I feel like this year’s team is the team. We’re finally in a situation where we have all of our players in terms of ones we’ve recruited,” Smith said at last month’s ACC Media Day.
“Our sophomore class knows what it’s like to go play at Georgia Tech. They know how hostile it is at Notre Dame, they know how hostile it is at Duke. They understand how hard it is to be a student-athlete in this premier league which is the best league in the country for women’s basketball, so they are able to share their experiences with our freshmen and get them prepared and ready.”
The Tigers (9-21, 1-15 ACC in 2014-15) lost their leading scorer, guard Nikki Dixon, to graduation, and saw guard Tiffany Lewis and wing Shelbie Davenport transfer away. They return 5-10 sophomore wing Nelly Perry (6.7 points per game, 3.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists) to a roster with no seniors, one junior (5-11 post Paige Mosley), seven sophomores and six freshmen.
“We’re a young team. We still have plenty of work to do, but the future is bright for this team,” Smith said. “This league is a phenomenal league but there is a lot of opportunity for movement up the ladder.”
Smith’s first season leading the Tigers after being hired away from UAB was a 13-19 production, the team’s most overall wins in a season since 2009-10. The Tigers also defeated Virginia Tech, 69-56, in the 2014 ACC Tournament, their first win there since 2009.
But Clemson suffered through its worst ACC season in terms of winning percentage last year. The program has not had a plus-.500 campaign in conference games, or participated in the NCAA Tournament, since 2002.
The Tigers will travel to play at Oregon two days before Thanksgiving, and participate in a tournament in Orlando Thanksgiving weekend. Clemson tips off ACC action Jan. 3 at UNC, and host nationally ranked Florida State Jan. 14 and Duke Jan. 21. All home games will be at Jervey Gymnasium, free of admission, while Littlejohn Coliseum undergoes renovations.