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 2023 Southland Conference Women’s Basketball Championships Thursday night 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 led 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.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.