As the Southwestern Athletic Conference season enters its fourth weekend, the women’s race is starting to resemble what was predicted.

Before the season, the league’s coaches and sports information directors predicted Texas Southern to finish first, followed by Alabama State and Southern.

Texas Southern is alone in first place after winning its first five games. Alabama State lost its first two games but has rolled to three consecutive wins by an average of 32 points to move into a tie for third. Southern lost to Texas Southern in its league opener but has won five straight by double digits to move into second place.

So even though the race hasn’t hit the halfway point, the game between Alabama State (5-9, 3-2) and Southern (8-7, 5-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday in the F.G. Clark Activity Center is significant as each team tries to establish itself as the primary challenger to Texas Southern.

The Jaguars have won every game during the winning streak by at least 10 points, and the average score has been 81-55.

The surge coincides with senior guard Ashley Williams’ move into the starting lineup.

Coach Sandy Pugh credited Williams — along with post Kenidi Robinson — with setting the tone for the defense. Pugh used three words to describe Williams: “Toughness, relentless, competitor.”

Williams has emerged as a more significant contributor in her second season after transferring from Baton Rouge Community College. She played at Walker High School.

“She brings up the intensity,” guard Britney Washington said. “She’s the type of player that’s going to go out there and give 100 percent all the time.”

Williams and the Southern defense overwhelmed short-handed Mississippi Valley State in a 99-36 thrashing Monday in Greenwood, Mississippi. The Jaguars forced 44 turnovers, and Williams had four steals.

“Like I always say, if the point guard has trouble handling the ball, you disrupt the offense,” Williams said. “If the point guard can’t get going, then their offense can’t get going.”

Williams’ contributions aren’t limited to the defensive end. Since moving into the starting lineup, she has averaged six points on a deep team that has just one double-figure scorer (Washington), and in the past four games she has shot 53 percent from the floor.

“You’ve got to honor her offense now,” Pugh said. “She can get to the cup on you. She’s hitting her three-ball. She’s got a mid-range pull-up. She’s just playing very, very well for us right now.”

The Jaguars swept the regular-season meetings last season, winning 53-49 at home at 72-58 on the road, but ASU beat Southern 73-55 in the SWAC tournament title game.