2020 Hercules Tires Southland Women’s Basketball Tournament begins Thursday

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Rehema Franklin

KATY, Texas – Postseason play gets underway Thursday at Leonard E. Merrell Center in Katy, Texas for the 2020 Hercules Tires Southland Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament. Opening-round games begin at 11 a.m. CT with No. 5 New Orleans taking on No. 8 Southeastern Louisiana. Game two will follow with a 1:30 p.m. tipoff between No. 6 Nicholls and No. 7 UIW.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi enters the tournament as the field’s No. 1 seed after posting a 17-3 conference record and capturing a Southland regular-season title, the first in program history. At the conclusion of the regular season, the Islanders and No. 2 Stephen F. Austin were each awarded a double-bye and a path to Saturday’s semifinal rounds. Reigning tournament champion and No.3-seed Abilene Christian will join No. 4 Sam Houston State with a single-bye and a ticket to Friday’s quarterfinal games.

The field of eight teams are all vying for a tournament title and the Southland’s automatic qualifying bid to the 2020 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

No. 1 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders (23-7, 17-3 SLC)

The top-seeded Islanders enter the tournament riding a wave of momentum after closing out the regular season on a seven-game win streak. A&M-Corpus Christi is led by a trio of all-conference selections in Alexes Bryant, Dalesia Booth and Dae Dae Evans. Bryant and Booth also found spots on the all-defensive team, where Bryant was crowned the Defensive Player of the Year. Southland Coach of the Year Royce Chadwick will look to continue his well-balanced squad’s strong play as the team shoots 43.3 percent from the field and leads the conference in blocked shots (143).

No. 2 Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks (23-6, 16-4 SLC)

Stephen F. Austin checks in as the No. 2 seed after closing out the regular season with a 14-1 record at home. The ‘Jacks have put together a stingy defense behind all-conference picks Stephanie Visscher and Aiyana Johnson, who have combined for 426 rebounds. Visscher leads the SFA roster with 58 steals, while Johnson has contributed 152 defensive boards. Their up-tempo defense ranks ninth in the nation for scoring defense, limiting opponents to 54 points per game.

No. 3 Abilene Christian Wildcats (24-5, 16-4 SLC)

No. 3-seed Abilene Christian presents a fast-paced attack that wears opponents out with 10 three-pointers per game. Reigning Southland Player of the Year Breanna Wright averages a conference-best 18.1 points and 5.1 assists per game for an ACU offense that ranks third in the nation for field-goal percentage (48.7). All-conference first team selection Dominique Golightly is converting 2.3 triples per contest and leads the Southland with a 43.7-percent mark from beyond the arc.

No. 4 Sam Houston State Bearkats (19-10, 14-6 SLC)

The No. 4-seeded Bearkats are set for an 11 a.m. showdown on Friday after landing a pair of honorees on the all-conference squads. First-teamer Amber Leggett and second-team selection Jaylonn Walker pace a Sam Houston State high-pressure defense that ranks fourth nationally in turnovers forced per game (22.6). In just her second year at the helm, head coach Ravon Justice’s squad causes 11.8 turnovers per game. The Bearkats stand first in the league for free throws attempted (674) and second in the conference for made free throws (470).

No. 5 New Orleans Privateers (17-12, 13-7 SLC)

New Orleans holds the No. 5 seed and will play an opening-round game Thursday morning at 11 a.m. The Privateers landed a pair of third team all-conference picks in Rehema Franklin and Asia Woods. Franklin averages 14.1 points per game and has recorded 19 contests in double-scoring figures. Woods has registered 11.5 points and 7.7 rebounds for the Privateers, who have proven to get better as the game progresses. UNO averages 13.9 first-quarter points and 18.3 points in the fourth quarter throughout the season.

No. 6 Nicholls Colonels (13-16, 10-10 SLC)

Take a cue from the regular-season champs is No. 6 Nicholls, which is also on a seven-game wins streak after starting their conference slate with an 0-5 record. Head coach DoBee Plaisance has guided her team to a 10-10 Southland record on a 40.9-percent field-goal average. Nicholls has five players scoring in double figures, led by Chrystal Ezechukwu’s 14.2 points per game. Tykeria Williams serves as the filter on offense with 4.2 assists per game, a mark that ranks second in the league.

No. 7 UIW Cardinals (14-15, 10-10 SLC)

The Cardinals are making their first conference-tournament appearance behind first-year head coach Jeff Dow, who turned the program into a 10-win team for the first time in their Division I history. Imani Robinson claimed a first-team spot on the all-conference roster after leading her squad with 14.3 points per game. The Cardinals picked up wins over three of the tournament’s top-four seeds throughout regular-season play.

No. 8 Southeastern Louisiana Lady Lions (12-17, 9-11 SLC)

The Lady Lions round out the field as the No. 8 seed, making their first appearance in the tournament since the 2011-12 season. SLU is led by third-team all-conference honoree Celica Sterling, who has scored in double figures for 20 of the Lady Lions’ 29 games this season. Taking care of the ball has been a focal point for head coach Ayla Guzzardo and her Southeastern Louisiana squad, which ranks first in the conference for fewest turnovers per game (15.5).

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