KATY, Texas — Northwestern State finished the regular season with seven losses in their past 10 games.
The Southland Conference women’s basketball tournament gave the Demons the new life they needed.
Beatrice Attura scored 19 points, and Northwestern State rallied to advance to its second straight NCAA tournament with a 58-50 win over Houston Baptist in the Southland tournament final Sunday.
“Winning only three games in the last 10 games of conference was humbling for us, being the defending champs,” Attura said. “I wanted to do whatever I could to help us win, so I started attacking.”
Janelle Perez added 12 points, including eight free throws in the final minutes. Tia Youngblood chipped in 10 points, and Chelsea Rogers had nine points with 10 rebounds for the Demons, who shot 36 percent from the floor.
“I don’t know if we can put that into words,” Northwestern State co-coach Brooke Stoehr said of going to the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years. “I know how I felt last year, and it was pure elation. I’m not stunned by what this group has done but just amazed. Their character and resiliency has been unbelievable.”
Northwestern State (19-14), which earned its fourth overall NCAA tournament berth, became the first six seed in conference history to make the final by defeating seventh-seeded Central Arkansas, third-seeded Nicholls and second-seeded Lamar in overtime.
Erin McGarrachan led Houston Baptist (15-18) with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Anna Strickland added 11 points and 13 rebounds.
“We kind of wimped out a little bit on our shots,” Houston Baptist coach Donna Finnie said. “Instead of going hard to the basket, we were avoiding the contact. We made (the shots) all week, and we didn’t make them today.”
The Huskies, which had to win on the final day of the regular season to qualify for the tournament, won three games in three days as the eight seed to become the first eight seed in the conference’s history to reach the final, upsetting fifth-seeded McNeese State, fourth-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and top-seeded Stephen F. Austin along the way.
HBU, which joined the NCAA in 2007 and Southland Conference in 2013, was seeking its first NCAA tournament appearance.
The Demons struggled for most of the first half and needed a 6-0 spurt that began on an Attura 3-pointer and was capped by a Youngblood free throw to tie it at 23 at halftime.
Northwestern State kept the momentum going in the second half, opening the second half on a 17-6 run to take a 40-29 lead on an Attura layup with 14:24 to go. Attura had seven points in the run.
“We had a stretch in the second half where we executed and took an eight, 10, 12-point lead at one time. Their execution and their ability to go back to what we work on at practice was tremendous,” said Stoehr, who co-coaches the team with husband Scott.
The Huskies answered with a 7-0 run to cut the lead to four six minutes later. McGarrachan scored all seven points in the spurt.
Six straight points by the Demons upped the lead back to 10 at 46-36 with a Rogers 3-pointer with six minutes left. The closest HBU could get the rest of the way was six.