JONESBORO -- There are multiple headliners on Arkansas State University women's basketball team's nonconference schedule.
The team will open its 2018-19 season at 11 a.m. Nov. 9 against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla. Before ASU's non-conference schedule concludes at the end of December, the Red Wolves will have made trips to Texas A&M and Missouri, two teams ranked inside The Associated Press preseason top 25.
"Yeah, it's a tune-up for conference," ASU Coach Brian Boyer said. "Our goal here has always been postseason, trying to get into the NCAA Tournament. But at the very least, you want to put yourself to where you're playing in the postseason, the NIT.
"So through my years here, we've always scheduled really strong. I've always said that I couldn't live with myself if I had a team that's good enough to play in the postseason, but the schedule held them back. I want to give them the best chance there is by playing a tough schedule in nonconference."
One year after a 15-15 campaign in Boyer's 19th season at ASU, the Red Wolves are predicted to finish fifth in the Sun Belt by the league's 12 coaches. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock was selected No. 1.
ASU returns four starters in juniors Jada Ford, Starr Taylor and Payton Tennison, and senior Akasha Westbrook, who was named to the preseason All-Sun Belt first team.
Westbrook led the Red Wolves in scoring with 13.4 points per game in a breakout offensive season. Her progression as a scorer has taken time as her jump shot develops.
"When she came out of high school, she wasn't a great shooter," Boyer said. "Her decisions weren't very good. She was just an athlete. She got a lot of her points around the rim.
"Since the day she got on campus here, there's never been anybody that goes harder than her."
Westbrook led all Sun Belt players in steals last season with 2.5 per game (71 steals in 29 games). A 5-10 guard, Westbrook became the first ASU player to lead the Sun Belt in steals since Sonja Tate from 1991-93.
"Before, she was a threat just because she played hard," Boyer said. "She got steals. She got rebounds. She got layups. And now she has an offense to go with it."
Rosters are cyclical, and the 2018-19 group is packed with veterans.
Three seasons ago, ASU's 2015-16 team won 27 games and went 19-1 versus Sun Belt opponents with five senior starters. After the seniors departed, the Red Wolves were 7-25 in 2016-17.
Last season, ASU doubled its win total from 2016-17 to (15) with 11 freshmen and sophomores, the most in the conference. They used 16 different starting lineup combinations.
Now they are wiser, Boyer said.
"There's just a much better understanding with what we're trying to do," he said. "A lot of the key players of this group have been through it for one or two years. They have a better understanding of what we're trying to get done."
At a glance
ASU WOMEN'S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
All times Central
Nov. 9;at Oklahoma State;11 a.m.
Nov. 12;Memphis;5:30 p.m.
Nov. 17;at Tenn.-Martin;1 p.m.
Nov. 20;Louisiana Tech;7 p.m.
Nov. 23;at Texas A&M;4 p.m.
Nov. 27;Murray State*;7 p.m..
Dec. 1;at Texas-El Paso;2 p.m.
Dec. 9;Tulsa;2 p.m.
Dec. 13;Miss. Valley State;11:30 a.m.
Dec. 21;at Belmont;noon
Dec. 30;at Missouri;2 p.m.
Jan. 3;La.-Lafayette*;7 p.m.
Jan. 5;La.-Monroe*;7 p.m.
Jan. 10;at South Alabama*;7:05 p.m.
Jan. 12;at Troy*;2 p.m.
Jan. 17;Texas-Arlington*;7 p.m.
Jan. 19;Texas State*;7 p.m.
Jan. 24;at Appalachian State*;5:30 p.m.
Jan. 26;at Coastal Carolina*;1 p.m.
Feb. 2;at UALR*;3 p.m.
Feb. 7;South Alabama*;7 p.m.
Feb. 9;Troy*;7 p.m.
Feb. 14;at Texas State*;7 p.m.
Feb. 16;at Texas-Arlington*;2 p.m.
Feb. 23;UALR*;3 p.m.
Feb. 28;Georgia State*;7 p.m.
Mar. 2;Georgia Southern*;7 p.m.
Mar. 7;at La.-Monroe*;6:30 p.m.
Mar. 9;at La.-Lafayette*;2 p.m.
Mar. 11-16;at SBC Tournament, New Orleans
*Sun Belt game
Sports on 11/01/2018
Print Headline: All grown up, ASU set for tough tests