SU Women Prep for OVC Tournament; Pietri Wins OVC C.O.Y.
TV24 SPORTS checked in with Pietri and the Gamecocks Tuesday morning in their final practice on campus before heading to the OVC Tournament. Under Pietri, the ladies have won 12 games overall and eight games in conference. The entire culture of the program has turned on it’s head from last season and the players say the seachange has been felt across the board. Now the Gamecocks turn their attention to the OVC Tournament. JSU earned the No. 6 seed and they have a distinct point of confidence heading into the dance. They have beat all the teams on their side of the bracket at least once this season. They are now looking to take another leap forward. JSU squares off against SIU-Edwardsville in the first round of the conference tourney tomorrow at 2PM in Nashville. (Below is the press release for JSU Head Coach Rick Pietri's OVC Coach of the Year honor) BRENTWOOD, Tenn. - After leading Jacksonville State women's basketball to one of its best season's in recent history, JSU Head Coach Rick Pietri was honored by the Ohio Valley Conference with the 2014 OVC Coach of the Year, announced by league office via Twitter on Tuesday. Joining Pietri on the league's postseason award list, voted on by his coaching peers and sports information directors from across the league, was his junior guard, Candace Morton. Morton, who has led the Gamecocks in scoring this season, was tabbed to the All-OVC Second Team. Pietri, brought to Jacksonville to change the culture in the women's basketball program, engineered a monumental turnaround from a season ago. After posting a 1-27 season in 2012-13, the Gamecocks turned in a 12-17 overall mark in 2013-14 - a plus-11 win total from a year ago with eight scholarship players. After starting OVC play with four consecutive losses, Pietri stayed the course and guided JSU to eight wins in the last 12 games to finish the OVC slate at 8-8 and a spot in the 2014 OVC Women's Basketball Tournament that will commence in Nashville, Tenn. on Wednesday at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium. The Red and White will take on No. 7 seed SIU Edwardsville in a 2 p.m. matinee contest. The New Orleans, La.-native is the second Jax State women's basketball coach to receive a league's yearly coaching award. Former Gamecock and then head coach from 1993-03, Dana Austin earned the 1997 Trans America Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honor. Pietri is the first JSU women's hoops mentor to win the honor since the Gamecocks joined the OVC. The honor is the first of his 14-year collegiate coaching career, but no stranger to honors throughout his entire coaching career. Pietri has earned multiple postseason honors while coaching in the Alabama high school ranks. He was a six-time Mobile (Ala.) County Private School Coach of the Year while on the coast. Pietri was named the 1998 5A State Coach of the Year by the Alabama Sports Writers Association and was also named the Press Register Coach of the Year for Southwest Alabama each season he coached at B.C. Rain (1994-98). Under Pietri this season, Jax State turned in an 8-6 mark in its 14 home games, the best home court mark since it won 11 games in 2003-04 and in 2004-05. The Gamecocks posted six league wins at Pete Mathews Coliseum - the most since 2005-06. JSU won five consecutive home OVC games for the first time ever as a member of the league and the first time since 2003-04 when JSU was a member of the Trans America Athletic Conference. Jax State split the season series with four OVC East foes. After falling on the road at Tennessee State, Eastern Kentucky and Belmont, The Gamecocks were able to avenge the setbacks with wins in Jacksonville over those programs. A contributing factor to the success this season has been the Gamecocks' offensive improvement. Through 29 games this season, the Gamecocks are averaging 64.0 points per game, an improvement of 7.6 points per game from last season. JSU finished the 2012-13 season averaging 54.6 points per game. In league games, Jax State is averaging 66.2 points per contest, compared to last season's 59.1 points per game mark. Leading the way in point production from day one has been Morton, the 5-8 Lexington, Ky.-native leads the Gamecocks in scoring at 16.7 points per contest, ranking among the scoring leaders in the OVC. She has scored in double figures in 26 of the 29 games this season, including a new career-high 24 points at Tennessee Tech. Morton has turned in seven 20-plus point games this season and four double-doubles. She ranks seventh in the league in three-point shooting percentage at 39 percent from behind the arc. Morton is approaching the 900-career points threshold with 889 career points in 82 games played. She needs 11 points to reach that mark. With her 180 total rebounds this season, averaging 6.1 boards per game, Morton has accumulated 350 career rebounds. UT Martin's talented senior duo of Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome were named the conference's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year respectively. UTM's Ashia Jones claimed the OVC Freshman of the Year honor. The Gamecocks and Cougars of SIUE will get underway in the second game of the opening session at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. All OVC Tournament games will be available on the OVC Digital Network as well as ESPN3. The Gamecock Sports Network will carry the JSU games with Mike Parris courtside at Nashville's Municipal Auditorium. (Courtesy: JSU Sports Information)