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Defensive play in second half almost rescues offense

IN FLIGHT: Stephanie Hawkins soared and scored 24 against Southwestern Christian. Photo by Joe Valdez.OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma  --  The Southwestern Assemblies of God University Lady Lions, after shooting just 26% in the opening half, trail Southwestern Christian University by a 32-19 score at the break.

SAGU continued their cold shooting in the second half and came up on the short end of a 73-63 score, which ends their season at 21-12. The Lady Lions were a solid favorite to win the regional as the other three teams all had losing records. The squad dropped four of their final six games and 7-of-12 down the stretch. After two outstanding games against winning opponents in last week's RRAC tournament, the Lady Lions didn't play nearly as well today.

The Purple Pride made 27% of their attempts after intermission, and outrebounded SWCU 53-51. Normally an achilles heel of SAGU's, opponent with a hot three-point attack, was not an issue. The Lions had an 8-4 edge in that category as well. The Lady Birds were limited to 38% shooting. What proved costly down the stretch was missing 13 of 30 free throws, ten of them during the second half.

SAGU slices deficit, pulls to within 65-63

Southwestern drew to within two points with a minute to play. Like they did a week in a narrow loss to nationally-ranked Langston University, when they missed four late layups, the Lady Lions missed another. There were 45 second remaining when they penetrated the paint for an apparent layup that would've tied the score. The critical miss led to fouling SWCU, who made free throws in the remaining moments to ice the game.

Stephanie Hawkins led the Lady Lions with 24 points. Chelsea Jones had 13. The #4 seeded Lady Eagles are now 13-17 and swept Southwestern this season.

While on the bubble, there is a chance the Lady Lions could still play at next week's NCCAA Nationals in Indiana. Six regional champions and two at-large berths will be confirmed by Saturday night. SAGU entered Friday's game rated #7 in the National Christian College Athletic Association's Top Ten rankings.

First Half Summary

The Lions were slow from the start, making four turnovers before they scored their first point. The Eagles came out hungry and focused, soaring to a 9-0 lead. Jones stroked two baskets, starting with a 3-ball, helping draw SAGU to within 11-6 just six minutes into the game. Their cold beginning became a trend.

Over the next eight minutes the Purple Pride added four more turnovers and hit just one of ten shots, another triple by Jones while SWCU extended their advantage to 22-9 with 7:23 left in the half. Hawkins warmed up late in the half, and a basket by Jirah Rodriguez on a sweet feed from Heather Jefferson allowed SAGU to trade scores with the upstart Blue Birds, who maintained a double-digit lead until the half ended.

Southwestern Christian led by a 32-19 count as Team Lioness had their work cut out for them.

The Lions had amassed 16 turnovers at intermission and had converted just 7 of 27 shots. Jones led SAGU with eight first half points, with Jefferson grabbing five boards. The Lady Eagles, who are from nearby Bethany, a suburb of Oklahoma City, shot 41% and held a 23-19 edge on the boards. Danyel Moses, who played the year before at Langston University, was on fire, pouring in 17 points in the first twenty minutes.

Second Half Review

The Lady Lions took the wraps off their coveted zone and went man-to-man to start the second half. While it help stir the cobwebs off their flat play, it did little in the way of applying the brakes to their opponent. Southwestern Christian scored eight of the first twelve points to build their lead to 40-23 at the 15:45 mark.

Coach Arlon Beadles had already brought in fresh players down the stretch in the first half. He kept making changes to jumpstart his squad. It slowly began to pay dividends. Andrea Lugo, the heir apparent at point guard for next year, knocked down a trifecta following an assist from Jefferson. Hawkins ripped the nets on a triple on a kickout pass from Gabby Bruner.

Southwestern Christian was beating the man-to-man, pushing their advantage to 47-29, with 12:32 left in the game. SAGU scored on an offensive putback by Sierra Hankins and Rachel Harris tossed in a bucket. The Lions trailed 49-35 at 11:02, but still needed to do more about their deficit.

The squad applied a press to the Eagles and the feathers began to fly. A steal by Lugo and another from Hawkins sparked a run by SAGU that would continue until the final buzzer. Bruner snared an offensive rebound and hit Hawkins on the perimeter for a trey. She then dropped a dime to a slashing Hawkins to cut the Eagles lead to 59-50. The clock, however, was also an enemy.

A triple by Jones and a deuce in the paint by Jefferson cut the margin to 64-59 with two minutes to play.

Drawing to within 65-63

A foul shot by Bruner and a three-ball from Jefferson to Hawkins had SAGU knocking at the door, trailing 65-63 with 1:05 left. However, they missed three free throws during that minute that would've put them in the lead.

Trailing by a basket, SAGU's efficient half-court offense produced an open lane to the rack. A drive inside to knot the score went awry on a blown layup, a bug-a-boo in recent setbacks.

SWCU grabbed the rebound and turned the possession into their own opportunity at the foul line. They took advantage, stroking a pair, and repeated the scenario several times. The Lions missed seven shots in the final 55 seconds and the Eagles answered with points on the charity stripe to salt away the win, 73-63.

Added Player Notes

After Hawkins and Jones 24 and 13 points, Jefferson registered seven. Rodriguez, Bruner and Lugo each bagged five points, with Harris and Hankins making two. Jefferson, who played her heartout, latched hold of a season-best 12 rebounds from her guard position. Bruner laid claim to nine and Rodriguez had six caroms.

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