Southern women off on Houston business trip

The Southern women’s basketball team returned to work Monday, setting its sights on winning a second championship in eight days.

The day off was a reward for capturing the Southwestern Athletic Conference regular-season championship with a 71-66 winner-take-all victory against Texas Southern on Saturday.

“They took (Sunday) off just to relax and think about nothing but being a kid and a champion and a student,” coach Sandy Pugh said Monday morning before the team bussed to Houston for the SWAC tournament.

Southern will play at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday against the winner of a Tuesday first-round game between eighth-seeded Alcorn State and ninth-seeded Alabama A&M.

The Jaguars (19-7) need a victory Wednesday and two more Friday and Saturday to add a SWAC tournament title to their third regular-season title in five seasons.

“In this conference,” Pugh said, “the big one is the regular season with us.”

That’s more true than ever before because Southern is facing an NCAA postseason ban due to the university failing to supply the NCAA with complete and accurate data on student-athletes’ Academic Progress Rates.

Pugh and her players had declined comment on the ban while they focused on the regular-season title. That changed Monday.

“We don’t fill out forms,” Pugh said. “Our job is to play basketball. We’re going to do our part. Hopefully if we win this thing, we’re going to send a message not only to every other school but to the NCAA just how unfair this is. We’re about winning, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Pugh said she believes her players have gotten past the disappointment of the NCAA ban and found significance in what a SWAC tourney title would mean.

“I think the biggest thing is we want to send a message that this is our year,” she said. “Winning the tournament is our goal. Although there’s no prize at the end, it’s not about the prize, it’s about winning and it’s about going in and sending that message and letting everyone know that our kids did nothing wrong.

‘The NCAA chose to place the ban, and it’s unfortunate because a lot of kids have been harmed because of it. But the bottom line is we’re here to play basketball. We can’t do the political thing; we can’t change anybody’s mind.”

Pugh added that “it’s a good time to be at Southern. I think a lot of positive things have happened.” She said the university was well on its way to getting its record-keeping in order when “the NCAA kind of caught us.”

Guard Kendra Coleman said the players aren’t dwelling on the ban.

“That’s not in our control, so we’re not really focused on it,” she said. “We’re not going to worry about that.”

The Jaguars hope they can repeat a ceremony next Saturday that they conducted this past Saturday when they cut down the nets in the F.G. Clark Activity Center to commemorate their regular-season title.

The net-cutting was especially satisfying to senior guard Adrian Sanders, who was part of another Southern regular-season title as a freshman, when the Jaguars couldn’t cut down the nets because they clinched on the road.

“It felt good to be able to cut them down my senior season,” Sanders said. “Now we have to go to the tournament and handle business.”