Giaratano’s buzzer-beater sends Southeastern to SLC Tournament Championship Game

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LAKE CHARLES, La. – Southeastern Louisiana University’s Hailey Giaratano banked in the game winner with 0.4 seconds left in overtime to give top-seeded SLU a 60-58 overtime victory over No. 5 seed Texas A&M-Commerce in the semifinals of the Jersey Mike’s 2023 Southland Conference Women’s Basketball Championships presented by Wednesday in the Legacy Center.

SLU (20-9) will face third-seeded Lamar for the SLC Tournament championship Thursday at 4 p.m. With a win, Southeastern will advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, while a loss will send the Lady Lions to the WNIT for the first time.

Thursday’s championship game will be televised on ESPNU and can be heard in the Hammond area on The Boss 103.7 FM/WFPR 1400 AM.

“I’m so pleased with the fight our team showed today,” Southeastern head coach Ayla Guzzardo said. “Texas A&M-Commerce is a well-coached team that doesn’t make mistakes to beat itself. We had to be tough and rely on our defense, like we’ve done all year. We were able to limit them to 13 points in the fourth quarter and overtime combined and that was the difference.”

The Lady Lions trailed 57-50 with 1:27 left in regulation, but closed the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run to force the extra time. A basket by Alexius Horne, a three-point play by Jen Pierre and a Giaratano bucket tied the game with 25 seconds left.

A Chrissy Brown steal gave Southeastern a chance to win it in regulation, but Horne’s floater at the buzzer was off the mark.

Southeastern had to rally once again in the extra period that saw them hold Texas A&M-Commerce (15-18) without a field goal. However, four free throws had TAMU-C holding a two-point lead with possession in the final minute. Natalie Kelly blocked a layup by Texas A&M-Commerce’s Olivia Russell to give Southeastern the ball back with 27 seconds left.

After a timeout, Giaratano hit a quick jumper to tie the game with 20.2 seconds left. On the ensuing Texas A&M-Commerce possession, it was Brown again who stepped up with a steal to give SLU the ball back with 3.3 seconds remaining.

“So much of what Chrissy does for us goes unnoticed, but every coach and player within our program knows what she means for us,” Guzzardo said. “She’s our coach on the floor.”

Coming out of a timeout, the Southland Conference Coach of the Year had no hesitation on whose number to call. Giaratano took the inbound pass, drove hard down the right side and banked in the game-winner. Texas A&M-Commerce tried a full court heave, but Giaratano batted it away to secure the victory and the program’s first 20-win season since 199.

“The confidence we have in Hailey and the confidence she has in herself is because of the work she puts in,” Guzzardo commented. “There was no doubt we were going to put the ball in her hands and she was going to make a play.”

Pierre led Southeastern with a game-high 19 points and five steals, while Giaratano joined her in double figures with 12 points. Cierria Cunningham grabbed a team-high nine rebounds for SLU.

DesiRay Kernal and Mia Deck led Texas A&M-Commerce with 17 and 10 points, respectively. Laila Lawrence narrowly missed a double-double for TAMU-C with eight points and 10 rebounds.

Southeastern fell behind early in the opening quarter, 12-6, as Texas A&M-Commerce started the game 5-for-8 from the field. SLU answered, however, as Daija Harvey hit three three-point field goals off the bench to key a 15-2 run and help Southeastern close the quarter with a 21-14 advantage.

SLU grew its lead to 25-15 early in the second quarter, but this time it was TAMU-C that turned the tide, holding Southeastern to 23.1 percent (3-for-13) shooting in the second quarter. Texas A&M-Commerce finished the period on an 18-4 run and took a 33-29 lead into the break.

SLU briefly tied the game early in the third period, but could never take the lead. Neither Southeastern (26.7 percent) or TAMU-C (27.3 percent) were efficient in the quarter, but Texas A&M-Commerce grew its lead to 45-38 heading into the fourth quarter.

Jersey Mike’s 2023 Southland Conference Women’s Basketball Championships presented by
March 6-9, 2023 | Legacy Center | Lake Charles, Louisiana

First Round – Monday, March 6
Game 1 – No. 5 Texas A&M-Commerce 79, No. 8 Northwestern State 66
Game 2 – No. 6 McNeese 87, No. 7 New Orleans 82 (OT)

Quarterfinals – Tuesday, March 7
Game 3 – Texas A&M-Commerce 63, No. 4 UIW 62
Game 4 – No. 3 Lamar 80, McNeese 75 (OT)

Semifinals – Wednesday, March 8
Game 5 – No. 1 Southeastern 60, Texas A&M-Commerce 58 (OT)
Game 6 – No. 2 Lamar 65, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 53

Finals – Thursday, March 9
Game 7 – No. 1 Southeastern vs. No. 3 Lamar, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)

For more information on Southeastern Women’s Basketball, follow @LionUpWBB on Twitter, like /SoutheasternWBB on Facebook and subscribe to the SLUathletics YouTube channel.

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