Southern women enjoy fast start

The Southern women’s basketball team returned to practice Wednesday after a well-deserved day off Tuesday.

The Jaguars were catching their breath after a very successful start to Southwestern Athletic Conference play. They won at Prairie View A&M 88-74 on Saturday, then had to work overtime before defeating Texas Southern 70-68 two days later.

“Any time you can go out to Texas and get two and come home, you’re in a great position,” coach Sandy Pugh said before practice Wednesday. “The Texas swing is definitely the toughest swing in our league now, and for us to go in there and get two straight out the chute, I’m very pleased with that.”

Pugh said the Jaguars “grew up a little bit in the Prairie View game.”

She said she thought the Jaguars should have beaten Texas Southern in regulation.

“But,” she added, “you could tell by the look in (the Jaguars’) eyes that they believed they could take care of the business, and we did in the overtime period.”

Southern, which hosts Grambling on Saturday, evened its overall record at 5-5. Pugh said the team is coming together thanks in part to improved health for center Jasmine Jefferson, who was slowed by leg injuries in nonconference play but averaged 13.5 points and 14 rebounds on the road trip.

“(Jefferson’s) ability to run the floor and do some amazing things around the rim are a big factor for us,” Pugh said. “She couldn’t run the floor in the preseason, but she was able to go 100 percent the Prairie View game.”

Pugh said guard Kendra Coleman, who made just two of 12 shots against Prairie View, was “the X factor” against Texas Southern.

Coleman bounced back to score a game-high 24 points, making 9-of-21 from the field.

“She creates a problem for a lot of defenses with her ability to score off the dribble going in either direction and shooting the jump shot,” Pugh said. “Moving Kendra to point guard allows us to go bigger and be more athletic, and putting the ball in her hands enables her to be even more dangerous. So we did that on a couple of occasions, and I think that was a big benefit for us.”

The Jaguars bench had a much bigger impact against Texas Southern than it had two days earlier. The reserves accounted for 34 percent of the team’s points and 36 percent of its rebounds. Against Prairie View, the bench had 24 percent of each.

“Definitely our bench was a big part of that win,” Pugh said.

Coleman said the bench “really hung in there with us,” and the whole team rose to the occasion in the final minutes.

“When it came down to the stretch, we played together as a team,” Coleman said. “I think that really made a difference. Even though we were down at a crucial time, we put our heads together, came together and won as a team.”

Southern hadn’t played a game in 14 days before facing Prairie View, and Pugh said the way the Jaguars used that time paid dividends.

“The difference was the way we structured practice this time around,” she said. “We didn’t just come out and do our regimented routines. We really had the kids doing more competitive stuff. We scrimmaged more. We got up and down the court more.

“We taught, we showed more videotape, we did a lot of things different than in the past, and I think there was a big difference in the way we walked on the court ready to go.”

Pugh said Southern was in a much better frame of mind entering league play than it was last season when it went 2-10 in pre-conference play.

“This year’s team is so much different from last year’s team,” Pugh said. “This team is so much more coachable. This team is so much more enthused about what we’re doing. I think (last year’s start) had a significant strain on our psyche, even going into conference play, questioning your confidence.

“I think this team has a lot of confidence, and I think it’s growing.”

Southern announced Wednesday that it has moved the start time for Saturday’s doubleheader back two hours. The women will play at 5 p.m., and the Jaguars men’s team will play Grambling about 7:10 p.m.