The Southern women’s basketball team had a long road to travel to get in position to claim a share of the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship Saturday.
It took them nearly nine weeks to catch Texas Southern after having lost to the Lady Tigers in the conference opener Jan. 2.
So, after finally pulling even two days ago with a win in the rematch, the Jaguars didn’t want to waste any time to take advantage of their hard-earned opportunity.
They scored the game’s first seven points, led by 12 after one quarter, were ahead by 24 at halftime and coasted to a 72-45 victory against Prairie View in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
“When you’re that close to a championship, you’ve got to grab it,” guard Ashley Williams said. “It only comes once. We worked so hard to work our way back up to first place considering we lost four games.”
Southern (17-10) finished 14-4 in the SWAC and shared the title with Texas Southern, which beat Alcorn State on Saturday, and Alabama State, which beat Grambling to knock Grambling out of a four-way tie for first.
Tiebreakers left the Jaguars as the No. 2 seed in the SWAC tournament. They will meet the winner of Tuesday’s game between Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State at noon Wednesday at the Toyota Center in Houston.
“No one can diminish this championship,” coach Sandy Pugh said. “They earned it.”
Skylar O’Bear set the tone by making a 3-pointer 16 seconds into the game, and Cortnei Purnell and Britney Washington quickly followed with consecutive jumpers.
The Panthers (13-14, 9-9) never recovered, scoring just eight points in the first quarter.
“We all knew we had to jump on them from the tip,” said Washington, who tied teammate Briana Green with a game-high 17 points and surpassed 1,000 career points in her final home game. “We came out and we executed. We played great defense, and that was our focus going into the game.”
In the second quarter it was the offense that made the difference as the Jaguars scored 30 points.
Washington scored 11 points, making two 3-pointers, and Williams and O’Bear also made 3-pointers.
“We started off getting the ball inside, so they started cheating into the middle,” Williams said. “That opened up the 3-pointers, and Britney found it and she got in a rhythm.”
Miaya Crowder added 12 points, making 6-of-8 shots, and Green made 8-of-9 as Southern shot 60.4 percent.
“We made a lot of shots,” Washington said. “Everybody was shooting very, very well. We got into an offensive rhythm. We hit the cutters, and we got the ball to our scorers.”
Lanikki McMillian led Prairie View with 15 points, and Larissa Scott scored 10 before leaving the court on a stretcher with a little more than a minute to play. She fell to the floor after taking an inadvertent elbow to her head from Southern’s Sarai Blissett. Scott was taken to a hospital; she was diagnosed with a concussion and got stitchers to her forehead.
The Jaguars’ championship was the second in three years for Washington and fellow four-year seniors Kenidi Robinson and Jadea Brundidge.
“It’s nice to end it the way we did,” Washington said. “Two rings — now we’re going to try and get this other one and go to the (NCAA) tournament.”
Williams was the fourth senior honored in a postgame ceremony. She played just two seasons at Southern, but she too has a second ring — from her sophomore season at Baton Rouge Community College.
“That was the goal,” Williams said, “to win a juco ring and a Division I ring.”
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.