Freshman Kolby Morgan went 0-for-6 from the floor as the Tulane women’s basketball team lost to South Florida in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals. Yet, while Morgan could not buy a basket, the Green Wave earned its way into the NCAA tournament.
Despite getting only two points from its leading scorer, Tulane played the second-seeded Bulls dead even for 36 minutes after getting blown out by them in both regular-season meetings. With four players reaching double figures, the Wave looked like a top-notch team.
That variety of options helped lift Tulane (22-10) from its perpetual WNIT status (four straight appearances from 2011-14) to the big show for the first time since 2010. The Wave latched on to the last-at large spot when the NCAA field was announced Monday, getting a No. 12 seed and a date with No. 5 seed Mississippi State at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Durham, North Carolina.
“Our team is so balanced,” senior point guard Jamie Kaplan said. “Every night, you kind of get something from someone else, so it’s hard to defend us because you never know who’s going to step up. One of our strengths is to get so much from so many different people. It’s difficult to scout us.”
Eight players have led the Wave in scoring in different games this year, and six more have enjoyed game-high honors for rebounds. Of the 63 other teams in the NCAA tournament, only one (Arizona State) has a leading scorer averaging fewer points than Morgan’s 12.0.
That’s why the Wave wasn’t fazed by her oh-fer against South Florida.
“We’re a team that doesn’t rely on one player, so if one player’s off, it doesn’t cost us,” coach Lisa Stockton said. “It’s nice for us as coaches to feel like that any given night, someone can rise up, and we can turn the focus to go to them.”
Although Morgan is Tulane’s only player averaging in double figures, seven teammates score at least five points per game: Danielle Blagg (9.4), Leslie Vorpahl (7.5), Kaplan (6.9), Chinwe Duru (6.8), Tiffany Dale (6.6), Courtnie Latham (5.7) and Adesuwa Ebomwonyi (5.1). Another, Tierra Jones, scored nine points on 4-of-5 shooting in the tournament loss to South Florida, giving the Wave another potential option in the NCAA tournament.
Everyone on that list but Kaplan has scored at least 15 points in a game this year.
“It’s unusual,” Stockton said. “At times you wonder who’s your go-to player, and maybe that’s the biggest obstacle is we don’t always have a go-to player, but we’ve won some tight games when people didn’t necessarily know who we were going to.”
Vorpahl hit the winning 3-pointer in a 60-58 victory against SMU. Morgan sank a game-winner with four seconds left to beat Central Florida 71-70. Blagg drained a 3-pointer and two free throws as Tulane rallied from a four-point deficit in the last minute to beat Samford.
“Everyone’s invested,” Stockton said. “When you look at our team, there’s no selfishness in there.”
Because of Morgan’s impact, the minutes and points are down for Tulane’s four seniors. Kaplan averaged 11.6 points as a junior, almost five more than her total this season. Blagg is scoring about three fewer points per game than a year ago. Dale’s average has been cut nearly in half, and Ebomwonyi’s is lower by a third.
After not even sniffing the NCAA tournament in their first three years, they are fine with that. Kaplan, a pass-first point guard averaging 5.0 assists, is more than happy to let others take the scoring load.
“Our team gets along really well, and that helps,” she said. “We’re not really concerned about numbers or stats. We’re concerned about wins and losses. If we’re winning, no one really cares who gets the credit.”
Blagg and Vorpahl are the primary outside shooters. Dale and Duru give the Wave a post presence. Morgan provides a little bit of everything, scoring on drives and mid-range shots, rebounding well and harassing opponents with her quickness on defense.
No one knows who will strike next. Vorpahl, a sophomore, was quiet in two games at the AAC tournament but exploded for 17 points while hitting four 3-pointers as Tulane beat Tulsa in the quarterfinals. Blagg had scored 18 points in her past four games combined before pumping in 19 against South Florida.
“It’s big for us,” Blagg said. “Someone can be off in one game, and then the next game they go off and score 20. It’s a really good thing for this team. That’s what gets us the wins.”