There’s a lot of “new” surrounding the Southern University women’s basketball team this year.
The Jaguars added eight names to their roster, are implementing a new offensive system and will play the season on a flashy new wood floor inside F.G. Clark Activity Center.
All this excitement finally goes on display when Southern opens its season against in-state rival the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on Friday, the first of a three-game homestand to begin the season.
“It’s that time of the year. All the coaches are looking forward to it,” Southern coach Sandy Pugh said. “We’re tired of beating up on each other. It’s time for us to get out there and scratch somebody else.”
Pugh enters her 13th season as coach of the Lady Jaguars, coming off a 13-13 season and a third-place finish in the Southwestern Athletic Conference with a 12-6 record in league play.
But Pugh said this year could be special, and it all begins with the Ragin’ Cajuns.
ULL struggled for most of last season, finishing with a 7-23 record and dropping 17 in a row at one point, which led to the firing of coach Errol Rogers, and the hiring of Garry Brodhead.
The Cajuns are a young team again this year, with just one senior on the roster and nine underclassmen. So with a new coach, new system and new team, Pugh said the Lady Jaguars are essentially going into the game blind.
“Because it’s so early in the year and he’s a brand-new coach with a lot of new players, there’s no availability of film,” Pugh said. “We’re just going to have to go at it cold turkey. It’s not something that we’d like to do or that we’re used to doing, but at this point, we’re just going to do what we do.”
The two fresh-faced programs will clash for the fourth time in as many years, with Southern winning two of the past three, but ULL winning last season’s contest, 60-49.
The ULL loss last season was part of a six-game skid at the beginning of Southern’s season, but Pugh hopes her revamped squad won’t suffer the same fate this time.
“It’s definitely a different team for us this year,” Pugh said. “We’re probably more athletic, going to get the ball up and down, going to play faster than we’ve ever played before. We’ve got some kids who can put the ball in the hole. I think we have the capability of competing at a very high level this year.”
One of those additions comes in the form of freshman guard Jasmine King.
King, a former Lafayette High School standout, earned all-district and all-state honors in high school after leading LHS to a 35-0 record, a 5A state title and a top-25 national ranking. King has drawn attention from those at Southern with her quick feet and consistent shot.
“Jasmine is a high, major player. She’s prime time,” Pugh said. “She’s a good student, a great kid, phenomenal shooter, leader, everything. She’s only going to get better as time goes on. She’s got A-plus speed. In open court, she’s going to go by you. She’s added a major dimension to this team.
King will help lead a new-look Jaguars offense that Pugh described as “free-reign.”
Pugh said she felt the need to tweak the offense because of the lack of size on the roster. The tallest player is 6-foot-3 Laneisha Stephens, and Southern has just three other six-footers.
“I think this is going to be a good offense for us, especially with us being a little bit smaller and not having the big bangers on the block that we’ve had in the past,” Pugh said. “Last year, you could pretty much predict where that kid was going next. This year, it’s wide open. It gives them flexibility to be able to read the defense and go from there.”
Pugh said there are still some kinks to work out but had no doubt about the potential of Southern’s basketball program not only this season, but for many years to come.
“I think they have all the ingredients to be outstanding,” Pugh said. “If we can stay focused, stay healthy and continue to play well, I think this can be one of our marquee years. Things are looking up for us over here.”