The Southern women’s basketball team practiced in Baton Rouge on Thursday morning and was on the team bus headed to Birmingham, Alabama, when it got the call.
The Southwestern Athletic Conference postseason tournament had been postponed. Later, after learning the NCAA tournament had been canceled, the Jaguars knew their season was over.
“We made it as far as Sherwood Forest Boulevard (on interstate 12) when we got the call,” Southern women’s coach Carlos Funchess said. “We turned around right there.”
The Jaguars were seeded third in the tournament and had opened with a 59-55 win over Prairie View on Tuesday. They were scheduled to play a semifinal game on Friday against No. 2 Texas Southern, a team it had split two regular season games with.
Southern was 16-14 overall and 13-5 in SWAC play during the regular season, but knew their season was in jeopardy as they watched ESPN on the team bus.
“Of course (the players) wanted to go play, but they understand it,” Funchess said. “I told them earlier, ‘Your health and the health of your family is our number one concern.’ They saw Power 5 conferences and other conferences shutting down tournaments, so they understood.”
The Jaguars had already seen the last playing days of senior Jaden Towner, who had suffered a season-ending ankle injury. The tournament cancellation meant senior Brittany Rose had played her last game, as well, in the win over Prairie View.
Southern’s men had their eyes on winning the SWAC tournament and earning a spot in the NCAA field. After earning the No. 2 seed, they were the hottest team in the conference with a run that included an eight-game winning streak and 14 wins in their last 16 games.
The last two wins of that streak came against top-seed Prairie View and No. 3 Texas Southern. They were wins that showed Southern was playing as well as anyone in the SWAC.
“It's unfortunate for us because we were looking forward to the SWAC tournament,” Southern men's coach Sean Woods said. “We were feeling good about ourselves. We were confident going in, but you’ve got to look at the bigger picture.”
The bigger picture means Southern ends its season with a 17-15 overall record after posting a 13-5 SWAC mark. Senior transfers Darius Williams and Amel Kuhljuhovic leave the program having won their final game 67-53 over Alabama State on Tuesday.
“We understand the significance of the situation,” Woods said. “Its for the welfare and safety of everyone, especially our student-athletes, and also our family and friends who were going to travel and support us. We knew once the NBA canceled their games it was just a matter of time.”
Still, it was hard to prepare for the suddenness of the tournament’s cancellation, even for the Southern women.
“I’m still trying to come to grips with it because everything happened so quick,” Funchess said. “We practiced this morning getting ready for a game, preparing mentally and then the rug gets pulled from under you. Its kind of shocking, but its understandable.”