Southern women set sights on SWAC tournament

After a late slide cost the Southern women’s basketball team a shot at winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s regular-season title, the Jaguars wipe the slate clean as they begin their pursuit of an even bigger prize.

Southern heads to the SWAC tournament, which runs March 12 to 16 in Garland, Texas, as the No. 2 seed.

Beginning with a 3 p.m. tip-off Wednesday, March 13 against the winner of No. 7 seed Arkansas-Pine Bluff and No. 10 Alcorn State, Southern will need three wins in four days to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.

Southern (13-16, 12-6) handed league champion Texas Southern its only two losses of the SWAC’s regular season.

“I feel good about our chances,” Southern coach Sandy Pugh said. “We’ve proven we can beat the No. 1 seed, and we have beaten everybody else. This tournament is ours to win if we go in with the right mindset, but we have to guard.”

Southern was the SWAC leader after starting 10-1 in the conference, but then lost five of its final seven games to join Mississippi Valley (15-14, 12-6) behind TSU in a tie for second. Southern won the tiebreaker with Valley for the No. 2 seed based on point differential in SWAC play.

Texas Southern and Southern, as the top two seeds, get a day off Thursday, March 14 if they win their first game at the tournament. Valley opens at 10 a.m. March 14 against No. 6 seed Alabama A&M.

Pugh has struggled to get her Jaguars to play at a consistently high level, but she expects them to bring their best effort with a ticket to the NCAA tournament at stake.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff (11-17, 7-11) or Alcorn State (2-25, 2-16) will have a chance to knock off Southern for the second time even though they are among the tournament’s lowest seeds.

“This is why you play,” Pugh said. “This is college basketball at its best.”

Pugh is confident that junior guard Adrian Sanders will rejoin the Jaguars after missing the past two games with a concussion. Senior forward Laneisha Stephens has been limited by a lingering knee injury but will have 10 days of rest before beginning postseason play.