Coming off a stretch that included Temple, No.1-ranked Connecticut and at No. 22 South Florida, Tulane has lost three of its past four games.
However, beginning Sunday at Fogelman Arena, the Green Wave (16-8, 7-5) will play Southern Methodist to begin a stretch which also features games against Central Florida and Tulsa — teams that are below Tulane in the American Athletic Conference standings.
“They’re really important, especially if we want to get to where we were last year,” said guard Kolby Morgan, referring to Tulane’s 11-7 conference record and NCAA tournament berth in 2015. “We need to finish out strong. We need to beat the teams we should beat.”
After this stretch comes back-to-back rematches at Temple and at UConn before finishing the regular season against Cincinnati (3-10).
Tulane’s recent slide has knocked it out of a tie for second place in the AAC to fifth. SMU (11-12, 6-6) is one game behind in sixth, with first-round byes in the conference tournament going to the top five.
“This is a big game,” Tulane coach Lisa Stockton said. “If you get a sweep over them, I think it gives you a little leg up for the tournament.”
The Green Wave won the first meeting 54-42 on Jan. 20 in Dallas with its best defensive performance of the season, holding the Mustangs to 23.7 percent shooting, including 19.2 percent (5-of-26) in the second half.
“We pressured their guards, and we had help behind us,” Morgan said. “But I remember we struggled offensively.”
Morgan, who scored 30 points in the loss at South Florida on Tuesday, had 21 points against SMU, including 4-of-8 on 3-point shooting.
She said the Wave’s rebounding in the first meeting, however, sticks out. With all five players going to the glass, Tulane had a 42-40 edge against one of the conference’s top rebounding teams.
The Mustangs aren’t efficient on offense, and the Wave didn’t allow SMU forward Alicia Froling to dominate with offensive rebounds. Tulane’s rebounding also limited fast-break points.
Rebounding has been a main focus for Stockton since the season began. Against South Florida, Stockton started 6-foot-2 freshman Harlyn Wyatt over 5-11 senior Chinwe Duru. Wyatt got just one rebound.
“I think we’re going to play around with it,” Stockton said. “We’re really trying to get some rebounding and a little better interior defense. Chinwe is still very important to us, so it’s going to be game by game.”