The outlook looked bleak heading into Saturday afternoon for the women’s basketball team from Southwestern Assemblies of God University. The outcome surprised most everyone but the Lady Lions.
SAGU got off to a 6-0 lead it never relinquished, defeating Texas College by a 75-66 count in the Sheaffer Full Life Center. The victory lifted the Lady Lions’ overall won-lost record to 18-7 and kept them a half-game ahead of Texas Wesleyan (20-4, 12-4). SAGU resides in second place at 13-4 in games played against schools in the Red River Athletic Conference.
The dozen clubs in the league play each other twice, meaning a 22-game schedule. Southwestern has five games remaining; TWU six. The top eight teams qualify for the RRAC tournament, March 3-5.
Coming off a dreadful performance on Monday in a 55-38 loss at LSU-Shreveport, a game in which SAGU shot 23.7 percent from the floor and was outrebounded 55-28, doubts were everywhere. Even more pressing were health issues. Sierra Hankins had been out a week since suffering a back injury against Wiley College. Gabby Bruner and Heather Jefferson were also injured and struggling to get through recent games.
Plus, Chelsea Jones was battling a bug that had already ruled her out of the game.
During pre-game warm-ups, Hankins was giving it a “go.” Then, back from San Antonio arrived Jones, the senior All-American, with plans to play. While the 5’8 forward wore no cape, her presence was as welcome as gusting winds in lifeless sails.
Facing a talented Texas College team very capable of winning when Southwestern was fully healthy, the Lady Lions put forth an effort that made Monday seem like a distant memory. SAGU built a 41-27 by intermission, surpassing its output from Shreveport in just 20 minutes.
Jones and Stephanie Hawkins, who endured personal season lows against LSUS, bounced back on Saturday.
Hawkins was especially effective, scoring 17 points on five of nine shooting. She stroked a three-ball, dished out three assists, blocked a shot and made two steals. Hawkeye drove past a screen on the right side and was fouled while making a runner. The ensuing “and one” free throw gave the home team a 9-2 advantage five minutes into the game.
Rachel Harris drained a triple on a kickout pass from Hankins and when Jefferson assisted on baseline trey by Rodriguez, the lead was extended to 17-6. Later, Jefferson fed both Hawkins and Jones on the perimeter for 3-bombs, and when she added four straight points the Pride led 32-16 at the 4:28 mark. Rodriguez accounted for 11 points by the break.
The Lions maintained control of the lead the remainder of the game, usually in double-digits, and did so by holding their own on the boards. They claimed a 39-31 margin over the Red River’s top rebounding team, an expression of the club’s recoiling effort after Monday. Texas College had averaged 48 boards per contest, while SAGU was last in the league at 34 rpg.
In the second half when the Lady Steers were trying to engineer a comeback, SAGU was dominant, grabbing a 21-13 edge in caroms. While the Horns were making 52 percent of their shots, their aggressiveness on defense led to a number of fouls. SAGU cashed in, making 19-of-25 from the charity stripe after recess.
The Lions successfully defended forwards Chardonnay Nelson and Ashley Proctor in the low blocks. Proctor, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds in their first meeting, was held scoreless and had four boards. Curbing the Lady Steers interior game opened things up for their guards.
British Thomas rose to the occasion. She found every nook and cranny to convert 11-of-18 shots and scored a game-high 25. She had 16 in the first half. It was her fourth 20-point game in her last nine league games.
She recently burned Our Lady of the Lake for 29. Elise Kea and Myesha Carrington combined to sink 10-of-16 tries, accounting for 17 and 11 points respectively.
Head coach Jennifer Pillich had her squad firing bullets during a 9-0 run to start the second half. When Kea stroked a jumper it drew the Steers to within 41-36 (16:42).
The Lions weathered their run by countering it with an 8-2 spree themselves. A driving layup by Jefferson reestablished Southwestern’s lead at 49-38 (14:03). Hankins found Harris open again beyond the arc, and the third trifecta by the senior sniper bumped the margin to 54-41.
Jones recorded 18 points by knocking down 11-of-12 free throws. She grabbed four rebounds and had four thefts in 25 minutes. Jones has now reached double-figures in all 25 games this season. Hawkins tossed in 17 points, making 5-of-9 shots.
Rodriguez was chosen the Chicken Express Player of the Game by the crew on the SAGU SPORTS Live broadcast. She was steady throughout, bagging 13 points, two assists and a game-high eight rebounds. It was her first double-digit effort in eight games.
Tonight is SAGU’s final home game as the seniors will be honored.