HOUSTON — For the first 20 minutes of the Southwestern Athletic Conference quarterfinals Wednesday, Southern women’s basketball coach Sandy Pugh decided to hold the press.
After seeing Alcorn State build a double-digit second-half lead, Pugh flipped the switch and things changed dramatically.
Southern unleashed a full-court press that forced 15 second-half turnovers, fueling a 13-2 run and resulting in a 61-57 victory.
“We were saving the press because I didn’t want to allow Alcorn to make adjustments at halftime,” Pugh said. “But looking back, I think we probably should have just hit them with it earlier because it got our confidence up.”
As the Jaguars (18-10, 15-4) set their sights on a semifinal matchup with Texas Southern, Southern’s defense could again be the key to victory and a potential conference championship.
After splitting their season series and finishing tied atop the SWAC standings, Southern and Texas Southern will get one final chance to prove supremacy when they face off at noon Friday.
“This tournament is about trimming the fat,” Pugh said. “Every game, someone is going home and someone is going forward. We are just going to continue to execute and fight and play solid defense.”
Southern did just that Wednesday in forcing 27 Alcorn turnovers, many of which led to easy transition baskets on the other end. In many ways, the defensive effort helped wake up a struggling offense.
“We started pressing, and Brianna (Green) started putting pressure on the ball,” Pugh said. “We capitalized on some critical turnovers and then Britney comes in and hits back-to-back 3s. Seeing the ball go in for her and the team’s sake was good.”
Green scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, while Washington and fellow senior Ashley Williams combined to score SU’s final 11 points.
Washington, who was watching from the bench after being held scoreless for the game’s first 29 minutes, was energized by the aggressive defense.
Knowing Southern’s next loss would be her last game, Washington did not want to give in.
“Any game could be my last game — it’s something I think about all the time,” Washington said. “But you never know what is going to happen. You just need to leave it all out on the court.”
On Friday, it will be against a very familiar opponent. Southern lost to TSU 59-45 in the conference opener on Jan 2, but the Jaguars returned the favor March 3 with a 56-55 thriller.
Texas Southern (19-10, 14-4) beat Jackson State on Thursday afternoon 65-47, holding JSU to just 20 points in the first half.
Joyce Kennerson scored a game-high 25. Kennerson (10.0) joins Kianna Vines (13.6) and Brianna Sidney (11.8) in leading the Tigers on the season.
The two teams finished last year’s regular season with a double-forfeit after a brawl ended the game at Texas Southern. TSU pulled itself out of the SWAC tournament a few days later, while Southern lost in the tournament semifinals.
This time the two teams will face off with the winner advancing to the SWAC championship game at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“This is all about our kids,” Pugh said. “We are going to go as far they are willing to go. If they go out and give us the effort and keep it close, maybe we can figure out how to get a ‘W.’ ”