Southern women plan long stay

The Southern women’s basketball team plans on sticking around the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament for a while.

The top-seeded Jaguars (19-7 and 16-2) play their tournament opener at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Toyota Center in Houston. Their opponent will be ninth-seeded Alabama A&M, which beat eighth-seeded Alcorn State on Tuesday.

Southern lasted only one day in the tournament each of the past two years, losing to Arkansas-Pine Bluff 63-58 last season and doing the same two years ago against Alcorn State 54-44.

“We don’t want to let that happen again,” junior guard Kendra Coleman said. “So we’re going to be more focused this year.”

The Jaguars enter this year’s tournament on a much more positive note than they did the past two years. Last season, they lost their regular-season finale and three of their last four games. Two years ago, they lost three of their last five.

This year’s team won its final three games with the regular-season title at stake.

“I think it’s definitely going to help us as we get prepared for this first game knowing that we’re the No. 1 seed,” Coleman said.

Southern took the title on the final day of the regular-season, overcoming a nine-point deficit with less than eight minutes to play to beat Texas Southern 71-66 in a first-place showdown.

“It took a great defensive effort to turn the tide and get us a championship,” Jaguars coach Sandy Pugh said. “It’s going to take an even greater one to get the tournament.”

The key to getting that defensive effort, Pugh said, is for the guards to prevent dribble penetration so the post players aren’t put in positions where they’re liable to get into foul trouble.

Pugh said Southern “donated” its two conference losses by not playing its best in losses to Alcorn State and Alabama State.

“Everybody is going to come out and show their best,” guard Adrian Sanders said. “Nobody wants to lose, nobody wants to go home, but somebody has to lose, somebody has to go home.

“Everybody brings their A game. You can’t let anybody sneak up on you. You have to play to the best of your ability.”

Like Coleman, Pugh said she expects this team to hang around awhile.

“I like this team a lot,” Pugh said. “I haven’t liked a team this well since probably the ’05-06 team going into the tournament. I have total confidence in these kids and what they’re capable of doing.

“I think the biggest difference between this year and previous years is we have legitimate point guard play going into the tournament, and I think that’s a big factor. Also scoring, we can score from a multitude of areas on the floor.”

Point guard Quitesha Scott helped hold Texas Southern guard Jazzmin Parker, the SWAC Player of the Year, to 10 points, barely half her scoring average, in the title-clincher. The Jaguars have four players averaging in double figures in Coleman (18.0), forward Jasmine Jefferson (12.2), reserve guard Britney Washington (10.7), who helped trigger the comeback against TSU by making five consecutive field goals midway through the second half, and Sanders (10.5).

Even though the Jaguars are banned from NCAA postseason play, Pugh said the players are excited because this tournament is part of “March Madness,” albeit not the main event.

“They’re excited, they’re energized,” Pugh said. “It’s about us winning and us going into the tournament and showing everybody that we are the best and we are the No. 1 team. The only prize we will take from it will be a trophy home, but it’s also a beautiful thing to be able to say you won your last game of the year. The bottom line is to me the gravy is knowing you won it any way, in spite of.”

Unlike most teams, Southern knows its season will end in its conference tournament. But it can still end on a positive note.

“I know we can’t go on after this,” Sanders said. “It’s going to hit us, but at the end of the day, we want to go out and show everybody where we stand in the SWAC.”