The Tulane women’s basketball team’s two road victories this past week let it climb into a tie for second place in the American Athletic Conference and bounce back from a home loss to South Florida.
But the wins at Tulsa and SMU also were significant because of what lies ahead.
Tulane (14-5, 5-2) returns home for a three-game stretch against East Carolina (9-10, 3-4) at 2 p.m. Saturday, second-place Temple (11-7, 5-2) on Tuesday and No. 1 Connecticut (17-0, 7-0) on Feb. 3.
UConn has won 99 of its past 100 games and is on another level compared to most teams in women’s basketball. So the games against the Wave’s first two opponents carry a lot of weight.
“East Carolina was picked (fourth) in the league and certainly could be in the mix at the end,” coach Lisa Stockton said. “We’re tied with Temple right now. Those are two teams, if you want to get to the top of the conference, you’ve got to be able to knock them off.”
Tulane already knocked off East Carolina, a surprising 66-51 win in Greenville, North Carolina, on Jan. 5 in which the Wave shot 46.3 percent, including 4-of-14 on 3-point attempts. Tulane had a season-high 20 assists and tied its season-high by forcing 23 turnovers.
It came after a loss two nights earlier at Memphis.
“I thought we adjusted really well during the game to the different things they threw at us,” Stockton said. “(Point guard Leslie Vorpahl) had a good floor game and got us into our offenses early. We were able to execute, and different players stepped up.”
Defensively, Tulane’s Courtnie Latham did a good job of guarding ECU guard/forward Jada Payne, who is second in conference games in scoring (19.1). And led by Tierra Jones, the Wave prevented AAC leading rebounder I’Tiana Taylor (13.3) from dominating with offensive rebounds.
Since the loss to Tulane, the Pirates have won three of their past four, but that came against Central Florida, Houston and Cincinnati — teams with a combined 3-18 record.
With what lies ahead, particularly a difficult second half of the conference schedule beginning with the UConn game, East Carolina is a must-get game at home for Tulane.
“We’ve got a long way to go, and East Carolina is a difficult team to play that I think is a lot better than their record,” Stockton said. “If we get this, we sweep them, so that’s what we’ve got to focus on right now.
“Coming off the road, we get a chance to relax a bit, and these two games at home are great opportunities for us right now, especially before Mardi Gras comes. When Mardi Gras comes, it gets a little crazy.”