If last year’s scenario were to repeat in this year’s Southern States Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament, Loyola coach Kelli Kennedy would be very happy.
Last year, the Wolf Pack finished the regular season second in the conference behind Bethel. But Loyola ran past Bethel in the tournament championship game to win the title.
This season, the Wolf Pack, ranked No. 24 last week in the NAIA Division I coaches poll, again finished second to No. 3 Bethel, losing both regular-season games.
“I know my team is determined,” Kennedy said. “They wanted to win the regular-season championship. That didn’t happen for us. Last year, we went into the tournament and played very well, and that’s what’s got to happen. We played well when it counted. We beat them by 22.”
When the No. 2 seed Wolf Pack begins play at 12:30 p.m. Thursday in Montgomery, Alabama — in a second-round game against No. 7 seed Mobile or No. 10 seed William Carey — it will be without its leading scorer, guard Briana Oglesby (12.1 points per game). Kennedy said Oglesby felt ill during the team’s Senior Night game against Xavier on Feb. 17 with an intestinal issue and is out indefinitely with what doctors say may be Crohn’s disease.
“She obviously would have been a great piece to have, but we can win it without her,” Kennedy said. “But we’ve got to play at a high level.”
DiMond Jackson replaces Oglesby, giving Loyola a three-guard lineup with speedy point guard Zoie Miller and Kylah Jones that has proved effective. The Wolf Pack won three of its final four games.
Men open Wednesday vs. Mobile
What you think about the Loyola men’s season depends on your perspective.
On one hand, the Wolf Pack (15-12, 10-8) is the No. 8 seed heading into the SSAC tournament, which starts Wednesday in Montgomery.
On the other, Loyola finished in a three-way tie just one game behind four teams that tied for second with 11-7 conference marks behind regular-season champion William Carey (20-10, 14-4).
Coach Stacy Hollowell said the Wolf Pack’s depth and versatility give it a chance to fare well in the tournament.
“We’re playing a lot of guys and have a lot of guys capable of being out there,” he said. “But matchups dictate who gets the majority of time.”
Loyola has four players scoring in double figures: forward Johnny Griffin Jr. (14.6 points, 9.3 rebounds), guard Nick Parker (14.0 ppg), point guard Jalen Gray (12.3 ppg, 3.7 assists) and guard Tre’Von Jasmine (11.4).
Also, center Nate Pierre is 11th in the nation in blocked shots (1.8 per game), and guard Eric Brown, who shot 7-of-9 on 3-point tries two games ago, and forward Henry McDonald have stepped up their outside shooting, Hollowell said.
Loyola will meet No. 9 Mobile at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday. The Wolf Pack won both SSAC games against the Rams this season, including by 10 points Feb. 22. That was the Wolf Pack’s first win at Mobile since 2010.
If the Wolf Pack wins, it will face No. 1 seed William Carey on Thursday.