Monday was St. Patrick’s Day, a time for wearing green.
But when the Loyola University women’s basketball team left school that day, it was thinking of another color: blue, as in the Bluegrass State.
The Wolf Pack makes its sixth appearance in the NAIA tournament at 5:15 p.m. Thursday when it faces second seed Georgetown College (21-8) at the Frankfort Convention Center in Frankfort, Ky.
The seventh-seeded Wolf Pack (21-11) earned an automatic bid after winning the Southern States Athletic Conference West Division regular-season title.
While Loyola has tournament experience, coach Kellie Kennedy said her team is past the just-happy-to-be-at-the-tournament stage.
“That’s one thing I felt from this group,” said Kennedy, who’s going to the third tournament of her six-year tenure. “The other two times, it felt more like we were just happy to be there. With this team, we have this gap of time between the conference tournament and the national tournament where were practicing and doing a lot of work.
“They have been extremely focused and ready to play from the beginning. I do not at all believe that this team is just happy to be there.”
Loyola enters its first-round game averaging 71.1 points per game while limiting opponents to 62.1. The Wolf Pack has a 64.8 free-throw percentage and averages 42.5 rebounds per game.
Senior forward Jasmine Brewer leads Loyola with 13.53 points per game and 7.88 rebounds. She is 11 rebounds away from being first on the Uptown school’s individual career rebounding list. Janeicia Neely averages 13.4 points per game and a team-high 4.3 assists. Megan Whittaker averages 10.1 points per game.
“I think they really want to go in there and see what we can do,” Kennedy said. “I feel very confident with our first opponent and we’ll handle them and how they’ll be able to handle us.”
This year is the second consecutive NAIA tournament appearance for the Tigers and their 10th overall. Loyola faces a Georgetown squad that lost to Campbellsville University in the Mid-South Conference tournament final. Campbellsville is one of the four top seeds in this year’s field.
The Tigers have four players that average more than 10 points per game. They are led by Andrea Howard (15.3), Kourtney Tyra (14.5), Lizza Jonas (13.3) and Devanny King (11.9).
“They have a couple of good shooters,” Kennedy said of Georgetown. “They are well-rounded. They can do a little bit of everything.”
Kennedy said her squad will face the challenge of defending a team that has a 45.2 field-goal percentage while it has held opponents to a 39.4 shooting percentage.
“If we can do that and dominate the boards, we’ll be in good shape,” she said.
If Loyola wins Thursday, it will play at 7 p.m. Friday against the winner of the game between third-seeded Our Lady of the Lake University and sixth-seeded Talladega College.