Southern women get early SWAC test

Little wonder Prairie View and Southern were picked to finish first and second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s preseason women’s basketball poll.

Prairie View and Southern have dominated the SWAC in recent years, combining to secure the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the conference tournament six of the past seven seasons.

Only two games into the SWAC season, the teams will tangle at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the F.G. Clark Activity Center. Southern completes the home-and-home with a trip to Prairie View in the regular-season finale.

“It’s 1 versus 2, so we’ve got to be ready to go,” Southern coach Sandy Pugh said.

Southern (2-10) and Prairie View (4-7) got off to 1-0 starts in league play Wednesday with victories that seemed to mirror each other.

Both teams won by double figures, but both were behind early. Both used huge runs to get ahead.

Southern trailed Texas Southern by seven before going on a 23-0 tear that gave the Jaguars a 31-15 lead they would not relinquish. Southern led by 20 points three times in the second half of its 72-60 win.

Prairie View trailed Alcorn State by four points at halftime. Then came a pivotal 11-0 spurt, part of a second half the Panthers dominated by a 37-21 margin.

SWAC scoring leader Latia Williams, the MVP of last year’s conference tournament, hit her average — 14 points — and added seven rebounds in the 64-52 victory. She enters Friday not only as the league’s leading scorer but also as its second-leading rebounder at an average of 8.3.

Kiara Etienne, the Newcomer of the Year in the SWAC last year, and JaQuandria Williams join her in the backcourt.

“They’re very athletic at guard and will do a lot of slashing to the basket,” Pugh said. “We’ve got to be ready to sit down and guard.”

While a win Friday would give Southern an emotional lift, Pugh knows it’s too early to label any game a must-win.

Last year, the Jaguars started SWAC play 3-0. Three losses during a four-game stretch late in the conference schedule forced Southern to settle for a 12-6 finish and a share of second place in the league standings.

“It doesn’t matter how you start or how you finish,” Pugh said, “if you don’t take care of business in between.”

In her third year as the Prairie View coach, Toyelle Wilson hopes to end the season with her third straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

Wilson was an assistant under Cynthia Cooper-Dyke when the Panthers made the program’s other two appearances.