Annually, January presents potential danger.
The month marks the start of Southwestern Athletic Conference play, which tends to tow a cloudy picture of which SWAC teams are for real — and which are not. Who the SWAC’s real contenders are — or perhaps may be — in a league with similarly structured clubs usually clears as January comes and goes.
Picked fourth by the SWAC’s coaches and sports information directors in an October preseason poll, the Jaguars have cleared the fog with a bold answer as their January ended Saturday in a bumpy 64-56 win against Alcorn State.
Southern’s a contender.
Saturday’s win inside the F.G. Clark Activity Center simply maximized the scope of what this Southern’s women’s basketball team could be.
Saturday was Southern’s seventh win in a row. Once 1-8 through nonconference play, the Jaguars are now 9-9 overall and a SWAC-best 8-1. They haven’t lost since a seven-point slugfest on Jan. 3 at Prairie View A&M, their second SWAC game.
To say the least, they’re hot. And they’re aware of it. More importantly, they're also keenly aware of their flaws, many of which were glaring Saturday.
For a while, another Southern win wasn’t fully in the works, either.
At times, the Jaguars stumbled against Alcorn’s full-court press. In order to establish their half-court offense, cracking the press became Southern’s most urgent issue.
The Jaguars solved Alcorn’s scrappy defense for the much of Saturday and their offense began to flourish because of it. Trailing by double digits, the Braves resurrected the problematic pressure in the fourth quarter and the Jaguars were forced to shut the door on a pending comeback.
“Yeah, it was kind of unexpected a little bit,” said forward Briana Green. “I really wasn’t expecting them to press. … At times, I just think we played real careless with the ball. We didn’t execute like we were supposed to at time. Our on-ball defense was horrendous.”
"We got out of character," added guard Samantha Duncan, who tallied a team-high 14 points.
Alcorn State (9-11, 5-4 SWAC), however, was a factory for turnovers. Sometimes without a specific destination or receiver, the Braves carelessly lobbed the ball to the open floor, allowing Southern to swoop in and snatch it.
The Jaguars baited Alcorn into 26 turnovers, the Braves’ 12th consecutive outing with 16 or more turnovers.
But to coach Sandy Pugh, Southern’s defense was alarmingly poor.
"I thought we were bad," Pugh said.
But there's a bigger, more pertinent issue to Pugh.
"I was not pleased with our defensive effort at all. ... As a coach, you want your kids to get better every time they hit the floor. They've got to execute. They've got to do all the little things well. When they're not seeing that on a consistent basis, it's cause for concern.
"I will tell you right now, in spite of the wins, I'm concerned. I'm concerned about our interest. We can't get bored on the floor."