Lady Lions Stave Off Lady Steers, 66-57
Hawkins, Harris, Jones, Jefferson, spark big win
TYLER, Texas -- Saturday afternoon's women's college basketball game pitted two of the Red River Athletic Conference's best teams. And, according to a local sportswriter, a great turnaround story.
Harold Wilson, who is in his tenth year of covering East Texas sports for the Tyler Morning Telegraph, reminded those at the scorer's table of the inverted pyramid. Texas College and the visiting team from Southwestern Assemblies of God University were, as recently as 2007, bottom dwellers in the RRAC. True. The host Lady Steers went 1-21 that season, and SAGU was next to last during a 6-23 campaign.
Both programs entered the game having righted their ship. Texas College, behind head coach Jennifer Pillich, had a 9-3 record and a stunning 79-69 triumph over four-time defending champion Langston University to their credit. With Arlon Beadles at the helm, Southwestern was 10-3 and ranked nationally in the NAIA.
Featuring the only teams in the Red River to play zone defense, the game was hotly contested but controlled from the opening tip by the Lady Lions. Leading from the first shot of the game, SAGU posted a 66-57 triumph over a very improved Lady Steers squad.
The game was played at a frenetic pace as the Lady Steers brought great pressure on the defensive end of the court as well as an all-out blitz for rebounds. The Lady Lions, however, took an early lead and played steadily better and appeared in control even when their lead was threatened midway through the second half.
Jirah Provides Permanent Lead
Southwestern scored on the game's first possession. Heather Jefferson (Conroe, Tx / Conroe HS) zipped a pass from the foul line to forward Jirah Rodriguez (Georgetown, Tx / Georgetown HS) in the left corner. The freshman wristed a smooth three-ball that ripped the nets for a lead they would never relinquish.
The Lady Lions, who didn't yield a basket for the first seven minutes, gradually extended their upper hand behind the play of Jefferson and Stephanie Hawkins (DeSoto, Tx / DeSoto HS). A 34-19 halftime lead was established by limiting Texas College to 16% field goal (5 of 31) shooting.
Southwestern resumed their grip on the lead in the early stages of the second stanza. Hawkins starred at the point. Zigging and zagging through the Steers' twilight zone, she drove inside before dishing to Gabby Bruner (Peaster, Tx / Peaster HS) for a layup. Moments later she penetrated the paint, looked to her right, and then fired left to Rodriguez on the baseline instead. The forward with the 100-watt smile calmly fired another trifecta for a 40-25 lead at the 15:33 mark.
Second Half: Weathering the Steers Rally
The Steers countered by mounting an impressive comeback. Over the next six minutes they unleashed a furious 15-4 run, drawing to within 44-40 with nine minutes remaining.
Amber Girdy, a diminutive, cat-quick guard was the igniter. Her dual against SAGU's Hawkins was worth the price of admission. She came away with a steal of Hawkeye during a double-team trap, and then zooming the length of the court for a layup. Keyara Criner powered inside for a bucket before British Thomas, from Oil City, Louisiana, struck oil by turning a theft into a quick payout layup. The lead was down to 42-33 with 12:01 left.
Elise Kea, one of several seniors who are leading the Texas College reverse of fortunes, cashed in another turnover. Kea came up with a deflected pass in the backcourt and parlayed the gift into an easy deuce.
Moments later Connie Espinas launched a long distance three-ball from 25-feet away. The Steers were making their points. Girdy parlayed a turnover into a breakaway layup and Texas College, down 44-40, was knocking at the door.
The Southwestern trio of Hawkins, Jefferson and Chelsea Jones (San Antonio, Tx / Cornerstone Christian), with a history of delivering in the clutch.
Hawkins grabbed a defensive rebound and went the distance before netting a pull-up jumper. Ditto Jefferson. She ripped a carom off the glass and jetted from coast to coast for a lay-in. Moments later she drove to the left and lifted a left-handed shot, high off the backboard and down through the net. It left the crowd quiet. SAGU led 49-41 with 7:37 remaining. Following a TC three, Sierra Hankins (Welch, Ok / Welch HS) scored after a sweet dish from Rodriguez.
The Steers were unrelenting in their bid to comeback. But they couldn't get closer than five points the rest of the way. In fact, after drawing to within 44-40, they could never score back-to-back baskets over the final nine minutes.
"Coach Speak" by Jennifer Pillich
"We have to execute better," said Pillich, Texas College's Head Coach. "The little things hurt us. We've got to improve the way we think about little things. We must believe that little things make a big picture. And we're going to get there!"
"We played hard," she continued. "We played as a team and we didn't lack effort at all. We just didn't finish well."
Coach Pillich was full of praise for Southwestern and the leadership of Coach Beadles. "He's a wonderful mentor," she said.
Closing out the Victory
Hawkins nailed a running, one-hander in the lane after taking a pass from Jefferson. Jones blocked Sekeya Roberson's shot on the baseline on the Steers' next possession, then added a runner with three minutes to go. Jefferson spotted her on the perimeter moments later, where she canned her second three-pointer of the game.
Bruner drove for a bucket after a Hawkins feed for an 11-point lead. SAGU salted the game away on the foul line.
Getting Physical Fuels this All American
Texas College played a ferocious, blanketing defense on Jones, SAGU's first-ever player to be named an NAIA All-American. And she filled up the stat sheet as a result. She has proven to shift her game into a full dimension when opposing defenses get physical against her wirey frame.
While they limited her shots, her intensity was off the charts. She made wise decisions with the ball and committed only two turnovers. Jones connected on five of her eleven shots and made 4-of-6 free throws to finish with a game-high 16 points.
Hawkins did similarly. She netted five of eight from the field and had 15 points. Jefferson added 10 before fouling out. Rodriguez had an impressive overall game, scoring nine and grabbing nine rebounds, most of them coming in the game's final nine minutes.
Bruner scored six and had six boards.
Making the Grade
Two players who stepped in and stepped up were Hankins and senior guard Rachel Harris (Joshua, Tx / Bethesda Christian).
Hankins had her second straight, career-best performance on the boards. Saturday she bagged 12 rebounds, most coming in the first half. Harris replaced Hawkins, when she picked up three early fouls. While her speed and ability to break the press were major assets; it was her experience and moxie under duress that helped stymie a talented Steers team.
She was able to do more than simply navigate through pressure. Harris, known as a three-point marksman and dead-eye free throw shooter, scored a pair of field goals on drives inside where she scored layups.
SAGU made 21 of 39 shots from the field (54%), including 5-of-13 beyond the arc. They converted 19 of 29 from the foul line, hitting 8-of-12 after halftime.
On defense, which is where the Lady Lions hang their hat, they held Texas College twenty points under their average of 75 points. TC did manage to pour in 36 in the second half, thanks to their own defense. SAGU allowed the Steers just 29% shooting for the game.
The Lady Steers pounded the offensive glass for a number of second chances, shown by their huge edge in shot attempts; 72 to 39. Ashley Proctor, a senior forward, led TC with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Both teams made 17 turnovers. The Lady Steers owned a 39-38 edge on the boards.
First Half Highlights
Struggling to get their offense going, Coach Beadles sent in Harris and Hankins. They were most effective.
Harris made a quick steal and fired a pass to Hawkins for a layup. Hawkins drained a long triple after a Jones assist for a 10-2 lead. Harris used a pass from Jones and a screen inside by Hankins to drive for a basket. Held scoreless for the first thirteen minutes, Jones popped a mid-range jumper – on a Bruner assist, for an 18-9 lead.
Hankins flipped in a baseline shot when Harris hit her with a pass after getting inside the lane. It was 22-11 at the time. Rodriguez sent a pass to Jones, who bombed her first three-ball from the corner. SAGU led 30-17.
Perhaps the best individual move came in the final minute of the half. Jones grabbed an offensive board, dribbled left to avoid a defender, then stopped, pivoted and cashed in a layup with a memorable reverse.
Lady Lions on Monday: On the Road Again
SAGU returns to the court on Monday, January 10. They travel to Hawkins, Texas for a 5:30pm clash with Jarvis Christian College (6-5, 2-4). Jarvis owns a 3-2 lead over Southwestern in the past two years. The Bulldogs won at home, 59-57, last season, and 59-49 the season before.
The Lady Lions have taken the past two regular season games inside the Sheaffer FLC; 65-60 in overtime last year, and 64-53 the previous year. In 2008 the Bulldogs upset the Lady Lions in the RRAC tournament semi-finals, 65-58.
Southwestern's eight-game winning streak will be under-fire by a very capable Jarvis team.
The Lady Lions next home game is Saturday, January 15, when Huston-Tillotson comes to Waxahachie.
Current RRAC Standings
|TEAM-MASCOT||LOCATION||RRAC RECORD||OVERALL RECORD||STREAK|
|SAGU Lions||Waxahachie, TX||6-0||11-3||W8|
|Bacone College Warriors||Muskogee, OK||5-1||11-1||W1|
|Langston Univ Lions||Langston, OK||5-1||10-4||W4|
|Texas Wesleyan Rams||Ft Worth, TX||4-2||12-2||L1|
|Our Lady of the Lake Saints||San Antonio, TX||4-2||7-4||L1|
|LSU-Shreveport Pilots||Shreveport, LA||3-3||6-6||W2|
|Texas College Steers||Tyler, TX||2-4||9-4||L2|
|Jarvis Christian Bulldogs||Hawkins, TX||2-4||6-5||W3|
|Wiley College Wildcats||Marshall, TX||2-4||5-8||W1|
|Univ of Southwest Mustangs||Hobbs, NM||1-5||3-9||L4|
|Paul Quinn College Tigers||Dallas, TX||0-6||3-12||L4|