With all the success for Southern in men’s basketball, it’s easy to overlook a women’s team that appears every bit the Southwestern Athletic Conference title contender.
Sandy Pugh’s team enters a pivotal matchup at Alabama A&M on Monday night looking to extend a four-game winning streak and maintain its edge atop the conference standings. The 5:30 p.m. tip-off in Normal, Ala., pits the Jaguars against one of their foremost contenders.
Southern (7-11, 6-1) took sole possession of first place after A&M (6-10, 5-1) slipped up and lost to rival Alabama State earlier this month. But A&M remains just a half-game behind.
“It’s a good feeling for the boys and the girls to both be in first,” Southern guard Kendra Coleman said. “We motivate each other.”
Southern has completed its annual three-game road swing versus Alabama State, Alabama A&M and Alcorn State unbeaten only twice in Pugh’s 13 seasons.
If the Jaguars can get by A&M, they will need only a victory Saturday against struggling Alcorn State (1-15, 1-16) to do it again.
But A&M poses the biggest challenge.
The Bulldogs entered Jan. 12 at 4-0 as the only SWAC team with an unbeaten mark in league play. A two-point loss to Alabama State in overtime is the reason A&M will take the court Monday tied with Texas Southern for second place rather than alone in first.
In their first action since the lone setback, A&M cruised to a 64-44 win against Alcorn on Saturday, with Shundray Davis and Brittney Strickland each scoring 13 points.
“Like I told the kids before we started this (three-game) swing, this is the toughest swing for us,” Pugh said. “You’ve got to focus in on defense. Defense wins championships.”
Defense has led the way for Southern since a head-scratching 92-76 loss at Grambling, which has lost every other game in conference play.
Saturday night, Southern held Alabama State to eight points for the first 16 minutes of the second half, opening the way for a 57-44 victory.
Coleman scored a game-high 13 points after managing just two in the first half.
“We stayed with our defense, we stayed focused, because we knew it was going to turn around for us,” Pugh said. “We knew shots would start to fall.”
The Jaguars know A&M can change the shape of the conference race in one night’s time.
“It’s going to be another tough one — a hostile environment,” Coleman said. “We’re looking forward to it, and we’re going to go in there and fight.”