Top spot at stake for Southern women

The winner of the women’s basketball game between Southern and Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday night will have sole possession of first place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

The Jaguars (8-5 overall) are 5-0 and have a half-game lead over the Delta Devils (5-10, 4-0). Tip-off is 5:30 p.m. in Greenwood, Miss.

There’s still a long way to go in the 18-game conference schedule, but nonetheless there are added stakes in this game.

“It grabs our attention,” Southern center Jasmine Jefferson said. “It’s an equal opportunity to see who’s the best, who wants it more.”

The Jaguars lead the SWAC in scoring (76.2 points per game) and field-goal percentage (44.0). MVSU is seventh in scoring (60.3) and third in field-goal percentage (38.8). Both teams are among the league leaders in field goal-percentage defense, Southern ranking second (39.7) and MVSU third (41.3).

Despite the fast start, Southern coach Sandy Pugh said the Jaguars have a couple of areas in which they need to improve. Though they lead the SWAC in assist/turnover ration, they committed 17 and 20 turnovers in their last two games.

“We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball,” Pugh said. “We’ve had a lot of unforced errors. We haven’t rebounded as well as I would have liked all year.”

Southern is being outrebounded by an average of 3.5 rebounds per game, though the Delta Devils are worse with a margin of minus-7.5.

“Rebounding and playing defense are key for us,” guard Adrian Sanders said. “We haven’t been boarding as much as we should have. The guards can’t just leave it up to our post players. We have to contribute as well. That’s a big key.”

The Jaguars have started slowly in recent games as Jefferson, who’s playing despite a sprained ankle, and leading scoring Kendra Coleman have struggled early.

Southern led 37-32 at halftime at Arkansas-Pine Bluff before building a 20-point second-half lead and prevailing 84-70 last Saturday.

The Jaguars originally were scheduled to go straight from Pine Bluff to Greenwood and play MVSU on Monday, but the game was postponed two days because of a bomb threat against the arena in Greenwood.

So Southern returned home, but couldn’t practice in the Clark Activity Center on Monday because an event for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was booked in anticipation of the team being out of town. The Jaguars practiced at Mount Pilgrim Church instead.

“It threw off our routine,” Pugh said.

The postponement leaves Southern with three games in six days as they host Alabama A&M on Saturday and Alabama State on Monday.

“We have three big games in a row,” Jefferson said. “This will be a test of how tough we are.”