Southern began this week preparing to bounce back from a loss at Alcorn State that cost the Jaguars control of their fate in the Southwestern Athletic Conference race.

The loss gave Southern two more losses than first-place Texas Southern, meaning it would need help to claim a share of the regular-season title even if it won its final two games.

“If we would have won (against Alcorn) that would have been a big help, but I still have faith,” guard Ashley Williams said Monday. “Anything can happen.”

Something did happen when Alabama State beat Texas Southern later Monday night, giving the Tigers three losses, one fewer than Southern, Alabama State and Grambling.

So the Jaguars (12-4, 15-10) can tie TSU (13-3, 17-9) with a victory when they meet the Tigers at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the F.G. Clark Activity Center (CST, WXOK-AM, 1460).

“We just have to go in focused,” guard Britney Washington said. “We can’t worry about the last game and we can’t worry about the next game.”

Victories against TSU and on Saturday against Prairie View would guarantee the Jaguars at least a share of the SWAC regular-season title.

Alabama State hosts Grambling on Saturday, guaranteeing a fifth loss for one of those teams.

“We’ve still got to win these next two games,” guard Cortnei Purnell said. “We’re not letting up just because we lost one. It doesn’t change our plan or focus. We still have to go at TSU and PV and the SWAC tournament is coming up.”

The SWAC tournament starts Tuesday in Houston and the winner of that will get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. So in addition to the regular-season title chase, these last two games are important in terms of seeding in the conference tournament as well as building momentum for it.

Coach Sandy Pugh wants her team to embrace those challenges more readily than they have embraced others.

“This team is weird because whenever there is a major challenge before them they just don’t seem to accept it,” Pugh said. “It seems like we shy away from confrontation or anything that is going to require heated combativeness.”

Pugh and the players agreed that they key to improving on the performance at Alcorn lies on the defensive end. The Lady Braves scored the most points by a SWAC opponent against Southern in two years in their 85-74 win.

“We need to come in with a better mindset as to how we play defense because defense will be the key to us winning,” center Kenidi Robinson said. “We need to be more defensive minded.”

Alcorn scored the first eight points of the game and led all the way except for a three-minute strtch late in the first quarter and early in the second.

“I think we wait to see how our opponents will come out instead of us coming out and just playing like we know how to play basketball,” Robinson said. “We tend to sit back and see how the game is going in their favor before we actually come together and try to pick it up. We can’t do that at all.”

A slow start was a big factor when TSU beat Southern 59-45 in the conference opener nine weeks ago. The Jaguars fell behind by double figures in the first five minutes and never caught up, trailing by as many as 24 points.

— Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.