HOUSTON — Back at full strength.
And back in the Southwestern Athletic Conference final for the first time in five years.
Jasmine Jefferson wasted no time getting back in a rhythm and Jadea Brundidge had a career night, as both returned following first-round suspensions to lead the No. 1 seed Jaguars to a 64-40 win over No. 4 Prairie View on Friday night at Toyota Center.
Jefferson scored 16 points, while Brundidge finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds as the Jaguars advanced to Saturday’s conference title game.
“Our biggest focus coming into the game was we wanted to play with energy,” SU coach Sandy Pugh said.
“I wanted to challenge them: Are you going to be an energy boost or an energy drain? I think we were able to come out and play Southern basketball and get the victory.”
Southern (19-11, 16-3) advanced to face third-seeded Alabama State at 2 p.m. Saturday for the championship. Since the Jaguars are ineligible for the NCAA tournament, the Hornets will get the conference’s automatic bid no matter what happens Saturday.
On Friday, SU left no doubt as to who the better team was.
Southern shot 50.9 percent and was able to score at will. The Jaguars defense also was key with Jefferson and Brundidge back in the middle.
The Panthers only made 24.5 percent of their shots — 20 percent in the second half.
“I felt like I owed it to my team because I made a poor decision earlier in the week,” Brundidge said. “I wanted to pay them back by playing my heart out and giving everything I had to them.”
The 16 points was a career-high for Brundidge, a junior, who also registered her first college double-double.
“The last three or four ballgames, she has been huge for us,” Pugh said. “People sleep on her, but she can finish around the basket and she is longer than you think. I was happy to see her come out and play with that energy.”
The big effort came two nights after SU was forced to play with just eight players because of suspensions from a fight with Texas Southern on March 7. The Jaguars showed no rust Friday. Cortnei Purnell added eight points, and the bench outscored PV’s 26-1.
SU’s only scare came when senior guard Kendra Coleman went down with an apparent knee injury midway through the second half. Coleman eventually returned to the lineup, hitting four more free throws to bring her streak to 20 straight.
She missed her final free throw later in the night. She finished with six points in 24 minutes.
“Kendra is a tough little kid,” Pugh said. “I think she just banged her knee on the floor. I think she will be ready to go next round.”
Prairie View (14-18, 10-9) was led by Shamiya Brooks, who scored 15 points.
Jeannette Jackson, who came in averaging 17 points a game for the Panthers, was held to seven points on 3-of-15 shooting.
“Southern did a good job disrupting our offense early on,” PV coach Dawn Brown said. “Our team is tough, but we weren’t as physical and tough as we could have been.”
The Jaguars jumped to an early 10-2 lead, with Jefferson scoring the game’s first basket and four of SU’s first six points.
SU led by as much as 31 points midway through the second half and got to use the full extent of Pugh’s bench.
Now the Jaguars will face the Hornets, who clinched the conference’s automatic bid the second Southern beat PV.
“I just want to challenge them to stay focused through the good and bad” Pugh said. “We just need to go out and do what we do. I’m excited.”