HOUSTON — Southern women’s basketball coach Sandy Pugh told her staff before Saturday’s Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament title game what it was going to take for Alabama State to beat the Jaguars.
“I said, ‘The way to beat us today is to have at least four players in double figures,’” Pugh said. “”Hit the 3-ball, don’t turn the ball over, get to the free-throw line and out-rebound us.” They did all those things.”
In other words, the third-seeded Lady Hornets beat the top-seeded Jaguars in virtually every aspect. Alabama State never trailed and coasted to a 73-55 victory in the Toyota Center.
Five Lady Hornets scored in double figures. Jasmine Peeples had 18 points, tournament Most Valuable Player Britney Wright scored 17, Daniele Ewert had 12, and Brittney Smith and Kayla Tucker each scored 10.
Alabama State made 7-of-15 3-pointers, 12-of-29 free throws, committed a modest 14 turnovers and outrebounded Southern 43-30. That last stat contributed to a 28-16 scoring edge in the paint and a 15-8 edge on second-chance points.
“They out-executed us and out-hustled us, point blank,” Pugh said. “My hat’s off to them. I just hope they go out and represent (the SWAC) well.”
The Jaguars finished the season 19-12, and the Lady Hornets improved to 17-14. Alabama State had already clinched the SWAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament because Southern is ineligible for the postseason.
But the Lady Hornets still played like a team whose season depended on beating Southern.
“Coming into this tournament, I saw that look in my young ladies’ eyes,” Lady Hornets coach Freda Freeman-Jackson said. “I said they were really, really, really hungry to win a championship.”
Freeman-Jackson said she addressed the motivation for Saturday’s game after her team’s victory over Jackson State in the semifinals Friday.
“I know they read the papers, and I know they knew what was going on,” she said. “I said, ‘We want the hats, the T-shirts and the trophy and the ring.’ They bought into that, and they wanted the same thing.
“These ladies wanted to win. I heard it in their voices. They weren’t thinking about being able to go already, and that’s the way they played.”
Several Lady Hornets said they were motivated to beat Southern after having lost to the Jaguars twice in the regular season, just as they had been with the same dynamic against Jackson State.
“We talked about that a lot,” Peeples said. “The way we looked at it was that it was going to take 40 minutes of hard work, hustle and desire, and then we were going to have a ring.”
Ewert said the two regular-season losses to the Jaguars fueled the Lady Hornets’ fast start.
Alabama State was nearly perfect from the field during the first five minutes, making six of their first seven shots, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers, in racing to a 16-7 lead.
“I think we had some jitters at the beginning,” Southern guard Britney Washington said. “Defensively is where we really hurt ourselves.”
The Jaguars got within six points a couple of times before falling behind by 14 at halftime. They never got the deficit to less than 10 points the rest of the way.
“All those 3s helped us get the lead and the momentum,” Ewert said. “After that, we weren’t letting them get back in the game.”
Kendra Coleman led the Jaguars with 18 points in the final game of her four-year career as a starter, and Washington scored 10. Brian Green had a game-high 10 rebounds.
Coleman admitted to being “a little emotionally drained” after a week in which five of her teammates were suspended for one game after a brawl in the regular-season finale. She and forward Cortnei Purnell were suspended but reinstated.
“It was an up-and-down season for us,” Coleman said. “But after (a 1-2 SWAC start) we really turned it up a notch. I enjoyed it. It was a great season. I’ve got nothing to complain about. We just didn’t play up to our expectations, and they outplayed us.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.