Dillard headed back to NAIA nationals after second straight GCAC crown

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Dillard women win GCAC tourney

It was a great weekend for New Orleans-area NAIA women’s basketball.

One day after Loyola won the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament championship, the Dillard women captured their second consecutive Gulf Coast Athletic Conference tournament title, assuring the New Orleans area of at least two teams in the NAIA national tournament.

The Lady Bleu Devils, seeded third in the GCAC tournament, defeated Rust in the quarterfinals, 13th-ranked Talladega in the semifinals and host Edward Waters 64-62 in Sunday’s championship game.

“It was definitely intense,” Dillard coach Norbert Rome said Monday morning. “It was not a neutral site; it was definitely a road game. Edward Waters did a great job of hosting, but they had all their fans there. It was a packed house.”

Dillard overcame early-season adversity when it lost its leading scorer from last year, Shaelynn Moore, to a season-ending injury in the third game of the season.

“She took on a different role,” Rome said. “She wasn’t a player, but she was more of an … assistant coach.”

Rome also complimented two other seniors who played big roles this weekend.

“Adriiana Jackson did a great job of being a coach on the floor,” he said. “Alyssa Washington started all 31 games; she’s been our bedrock. Wherever I need her to go, she was all over the floor.”

Dillard sophomore Jaiylan Brown, who came off the bench to score 16 points in the title game, was named the tournament’s most valuable player. Brown scored 20 and had five three-pointers against Talladega.

Jaiylan Brown, Dillard

“Jaiylan does a good job of putting in work throughout the year,” Rome said. “Her performance was spurred on by Adriiana. JB does a good job of catching and shooting. She wanted to step up and play her role. That was huge for us.”

Brown averaged 15.7 points in three tournament games – nearly double the 8.2 points she averaged in the six games prior to Dillard’s arrival in Jacksonville.

“It’s always somebody that comes off the bench to provide us a spark,” Rome said. “This team is much deeper than last year’s from top to bottom. We can actually play about 10 players and there’s no dropoff.”

Sunday’s game was a rematch of last year’s final, won by Dillard 63-59.

While the championship game was a tight struggle throughout, Saturday’s semifinal against Talladega had huge swings in the first half alone.

Talladega led 24-8 after the first 10 minutes before the Lady Bleu Devils flipped the script, scoring the first 12 points of the second quarter and outscoring the Tigers 24-5 in the period to take a three-point halftime lead.

Last year’s conference tournament title put Dillard in the NAIA nationals for the first time since 2004. The Blue Devils lost to Montana Western in the opening round last year.

“There were some unknown factors (last year),” Rome said. “Having had that opportunity go there, we can make those adjustments. Early on, we were controlling the game. We were forcing turnovers and getting steals, but we weren’t converting.

“With the high altitude, we had to go into our bench. They took a lead. We had a push in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough.”

Dillard is on a five-game winning streak heading to nationals, all of them away from Dent Hall. The streak, which is the Lady Bleu Devils’ third of at least five games this season, started Feb. 23 with a 68-62 overtime win at Tougaloo.

“One of the things I knew going into the tournament, we turned our season around on the road against Tougaloo,” Rome said. “We were down 10 at Tougaloo and came back to get the game into overtime. I think that was a turning point in the season.

“This particular game, we came together as one group. I reminded them of that. I told them we needed to stay in that place.

“We had already proven we can go on a win streak.”

And now they have another streak to take back to Montana next week.

The 2019 NAIA national tournament begins March 13, with the 32-team field announced Wednesday afternoon. It’s possible the New Orleans area could get a third team into the tournament if Xavier – ranked 23rd nationally and the GCAC regular-season champion – can earn an at-large berth.

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Lenny Vangilder

Lenny Vangilder

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Lenny has been involved in college athletics since the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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