After a 1-10 start, the Southern women’s basketball team has taken 11 days to regroup, recover and re-energize.
Coach Sandy Pugh called the Jaguars’ trip to New York last month a turning point, and as Southern opens Southwestern Athletic Conference play Wednesday against Texas Southern, another new season starts.
The Jaguars haven’t played since Dec. 21, when they lost 73-50 to Ohio State. Pugh has taken full advantage of the downtime to prepare for conference competition.
“Right now, we’ve had basically five good days of practice,” Pugh said. “The kids came in and really focused. We definitely had an opportunity to get some turns on the offensive segments and tweak a lot of the things ... on the defensive end and try to get some of these kids who didn’t get a lot of (playing time) earlier in the year in a position where they can give us some assistance in the conference.”
Southern practiced twice a day in the days leading up to Wednesday’s SWAC opener against Texas Southern (3-8), slowly dialing down the workload as the game approached.
The Tigers return a majority of last season’s team, which finished 5-26, but Pugh isn’t taking them lightly.
In the offseason, TSU hired a familiar coach — Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, the former WNBA star who’d previously led Prairie View to three SWAC championships before moving on to UNC-Wilmington.
“Those kids are only going to get better under (Cooper-Dyke’s) tutelage. They match up pretty good with us,” Pugh said. “I think the advantage for us is just our experience. If we take care of the basketball and rebound I think we’ll be fine.”
Southern plays four games in seven days, hosting Prairie View on Friday before traveling to State on Sunday and Jackson State on Tuesday.
Pugh said the Jaguars’ depth and experience will help get them through the tough stretch.
“The biggest key to it is just teamwork,” Pugh said. “The reserves are really going to have to play roles, because there’s no way you’re going to be able to play five kids for 40 minutes in four games. That’s a whole lot of heavy minutes. Bench scoring is going to be a major factor — especially when you get to the second and third game of this stretch.”
With school still out until the spring semester begins, Pugh said there is “no doubt” that the extra time will give the Jaguars an advantage.
“You don’t have that added pressure of a test tomorrow or deadlines on the computer or whatever, or getting up for class early in the morning and staying up late to study,” Pugh said. “We’re taking full advantage of it.”
Despite the slow start, Pugh knows SWAC play brings a new round of goals for the Jaguars. The 13th-year coach isn’t setting lofty expectations, but isn’t putting the season to rest just yet.
“Our focus has been about this conference season and what we want out of it and what it’s going to take to get there,” Pugh said. “I think all these kids are really committed to the task at hand and coming out every day at practice.”
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