Second-half surge sends SLU to first-ever NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament berth

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Southeastern Lady Lions win SLC

LAKE CHARLES, La. – For the first time in school history, the Southeastern Louisiana University Lady Lions are headed to the Big Dance.

The Lady Lions (21-9) outscored Lamar, 39-21, in the second half on the way to a 66-57 victory in the championship game of the Jersey Mike’s 2023 Southland Conference Women’s Basketball Championships Thursday evening at the Legacy Center.

With the victory, regular season champion SLU added to its trophy case with its first-ever SLC Tournament championship to punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Southeastern will find out its first-ever postseason berth selection on Sunday at 7 p.m. The selection show airs on ESPN.

All-Tournament selection Taylor Bell scored 17 of her game-high 22 points in the second half to pace the Lady Lions. A night after making the game-winning shot at the buzzer in SLU’s 60-58 semifinal win over Texas A&M-Commerce, SLC Tournament MVP Hailey Giaratano scored 15 points, while Chrissy Brown joined her in double figures with 10 points.

The smallest player on the court, SLU freshman guard Jen Pierre, shook off first-half foul trouble to lead the Lady Lions with 11 rebounds. Cierria Cunningham chipped in with four assists to lead Southeastern. Every Lady Lion had to pitch in, as SLU was without injured first team All-SLC guard Alexius Horne.

“We lost a key player in Alexius, but we didn’t have any doubt that this team could get it done,” Southeastern head coach and SLC Coach of the Year Ayla Guzzardo said. “We knew Lamar was phenomenally coached and was going to make us work for everything. But we played and won as a team.”

Lamar opened the game with a 9-2 run and lead by as many as nine in the opening period, taking a 19-12 lead after the initial 10 minutes.

A pair of free throws by Dijone’ Flowers cut the LU advantage to 22-19 with 7:57 left in the second quarter. That would be as close as the Lady Lions would get in the period, as Lamar took a 36-27 advantage into the break.

Southeastern turned the tide in the third quarter. After briefly falling behind by 11 early in the quarter, SLU roared back to close out the period. Bell paced a 20-5 run to close out the quarter and the Lady Lions took a 53-47 lead into the fourth quarter.

“We were timid in the first half and settled for a lot of outside shots,” Guzzardo said. “We changed our mindset in the third quarter. We were aggressive and we made them defend us. We played great team defense and everyone was locked in.”

Lamar would cut the advantage to 59-57 with just under four minutes remaining on a Portia Adams driving layup. The Cardinals would get no closer, as Bell, Giaratano and Natalie Kelly combined to go 7-for-8 from the free throw line in a game-closing 7-0 run that iced the nine-point victory for the Lady Lions.

“This program has been through a lot,” Guzzardo said of her team’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. “It takes time and special people for this to happen. Our coaches and players are like family.’

Lamar finished the 2022-23 season with a 20-12 record. Adams led the Cardinals with 20 points, while Akasha Davis added a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Both Adams and Davis joined Giaratano, Bell and Texas A&M-Commerce’s DesiRay Kernal on the SLC All-Tournament Team.

Lamar 57 (20-12)
Hill 0-0 0-0 0, Davis 7-8 2-2 16, Dean 4-9 0-0 8, Adams 9-21 2-7 20, Taylor 1-11 2-2 4, Weems 2-2 0-0 3, McQueen 1-6 0-0 3, Imevbore 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 25-58 4-4 57.
Southeastern 66 (21-9)
Kelly 1-3 1-2 3, Pierre 2-9 4-6 8, Cunningham 2-9 0-0 4, Brown 5-8 0-1 10, Giartano 5-15 5-5 15, Harvey 0-1 0-0 0, Bell 7-9 5-6 22, Flowers 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 23-54 17-22 66.
End of 1st Quarter – LU 19, SLU 12. Halftime – LU 36, SLU 27. End of 3rd Quarter – SLU 53, LU 47. Three-point goals – LU 3-20 (Adams 2-7, McQueen 1-5, Dean 0-4, Taylor 0-4). SLU 3-5 (Bell 3-3, Cunningham 0-1, Harvey 0-1). Technical Fouls – None. Fouled Out – Davis. Rebounds – LU 31 (Davis 13), SLU 35 (Pierre 11). Assists – Lamar 12 (Davis 5), SLU 9 (Cunningham 4). Total Fouls – LU 18, SLU 13, SLU. A – 606.

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 – Lamar 65, No. 2 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 53

Finals – Thursday, March 9
Game 7 – Southeastern 66, Lamar 57

2022-23 Southland Conference All-Tournament Team
Hailey Giaratano, Southeastern (MVP)
Taylor Bell, Southeastern
Akasha Davis, Lamar
Portia Adams, Lamar
DesiRay Kernal, Texas A&M-Commerce

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