McNeese State heads to the NCAA while UCA is in the WNIT and Sam Houston, SFA take part in the WBI
KATY, Texas – McNeese State headlines four Southland Conference teams that will be playing in 2012 postseason tournaments. The Cowgirls won their second consecutive Southland Conference title with a 60-56 win against Stephen F. Austin last Friday to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. McNeese earned a 15 seed and will face second-seeded Kentucky Saturday at 3:20 p.m., Central, on ESPN2. Central Arkansas guaranteed itself a second consecutive postseason trip after winning the Southland regular-season championship. The Sugar Bears were upset in the first round of the conference tournament by Nicholls State, sending them to the Women's National Invitational Tournament. UCA will face Oklahoma State Friday at 7 p.m., Central. Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin are also in the postseason after accepting bids to play in the Women's Basketball Invitational. The Bearkats, who are making their first postseason appearance in the program's 47-year history, will host Rice Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. The Ladyjacks will appear in the postseason for the 26th time and will host Northern Iowa Thursday at 7 p.m.
McNeese State Defends Its Southland Conference Tournament Title
Redemption found its way toward Caitlyn Baggett on Friday night, which led to McNeese State finding itself back in the NCAA tournament.
Baggett, who missed a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left, knocked down a pair with five seconds remaining to give the Cowgirls a 62-58 win over Stephen F. Austin for the school's second consecutive Southland Conference tournament championship. Baggett, who finished with 21 points and was named the tournament's most valuable player, iced the game with two free throws with 0.9 seconds left after an SFA turnover.
The final flurry of free throws from Baggett concluded a wild final 1:21, which came to pass when Tammara Marion knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner that tied the game at 56, capping off an intense second half in which neither McNeese (26-7) nor SFA (23-9) led by more than four points.
The ability to both reach and convert on the line (McNeese made 16 of their 19 attempts) offset a rough night from beyond the arc for the Cowgirls, who went 4 of 17 from 3-point range. SFA's Amina Sawyer played a key role in why Ashlyn Baggett and Candace LaCombe were a combined 0 for 8 from downtown.
McNeese did its most damage outside in the first half, when Caitlyn Baggett put the offense on her shoulders and hit a trio of 3-pointers in a stretch in which she scored 13 of the Cowgirls' 15 points. Her final triple of the half helped stake McNeese to 25-16 lead at the 4:25 mark before a late spurt by SFA trimmed the lead to 29-24 at intermission.
Southland's All-Tournament Team
All five spot on the all-tournament team were made up from players in the championship game. McNeese placed three players on the team, including Caitlyn Baggett, Ashlyn Baggett and Kendra Wells. Stephen F. Austin was represented on the team by Tammara Marion and Ashlee Mells. Caitlyn Baggett averaged 16.7 points per game in the three tournament wins, including a game-high 21 points Stephen F. Austin in the championship to be named tournament MVP. She is only the second Cowgirl to earn tournament MVP honors, joining her twin sister Ashlyn, who earned the distinction last year. Ashlyn Baggett averaged 14.7 points per contest, including a game-high 19 points in the Cowgirls opening win against Southeastern Louisiana and 14 points in the championship game despite being in foul trouble for most of the second half. Kendra Wells was a vital part in McNeese's championship run because of her presence on the glass. Wells averaged 14.0 rebounds per game and pulled down a game-high 12 against SFA, none bigger than the one off the missed free throw from Caitlyn Baggett to give McNeese the possession it needed in the closing seconds to win. Tammara Marion averaged 12.3 points per contest for the Ladyjacks while Ashlee Mells scored 9.7 points per game and paced with Ladyjacks on the glass with 5.3 rebounds per game.
Central Arkansas Claims Southland Regular Season
The Sugar Bears won its first Division I conference championship this season after finishing their best season in the program's six-year stint in Division I. UCA clinched the title outright on the last game of the season with a 66-45 win against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to finish a perfect 16-0 at the Farris Center. It was the sixth conference title for UCA at any level and first Southland championship for the program. UCA opened the Southland tournament with a shocking 20-point loss to Nicholls State, which ended the Sugar Bears hopes of earning the school's first ever trip to the NCAA tournament.
McNeese State in the NCAA Tournament
McNeese is making its second consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Cowgirls are 0-1 in their previous trip, losing to eventual champion Texas A&M, 47-87. McNeese is looking to give the Southland Conference its first tournament win since 2000 when Stephen F. Austin upset Xavier, 73-72.
2011 — First Round; Shreveport, La.
No. 2 Texas A&M 87, No. 15 McNeese State 47
McNeese State vs. Kentucky
This is will be the second meeting between the two schools, with Kentucky holding a 1-0 advantage. McNeese State last played the Wildcats back in the 2009-10 season, when the Cowgirls finished 7-22 overall. Since then, McNeese has produced back-to-back 26-7 records. Kentucky won the contest, 85-50.
About the Wildcats
Kentucky is one of eight Southeastern Conference schools to make the field this year. The Wildcats finished the year 25-6 overall and 13-3 in the SEC, claiming the regular-season title for the first time in the program's history. This marks Kentucky's ninth appearance in the NCAA tournament. Kentucky is led by 2012 SEC Player of the Year A'dia Mathies, who averages 15.7 points per game and 5.3 rebounds a game.
Last Year: McNeese State Falls to Texas A&M in First Round
McNeese State's record setting season came to an end with an 87-47 NCAA Tournament first round loss to Texas A&M. The Cowgirls ended the season 26-7. Caitlyn Baggett led the Cowgirls with 22 points, making 10-of-20 from the field and was 1-of-3 from three-point range. The Cowgirls struggled from the field from the get go and missed shots that would normally fall. McNeese struggled from behind the arc and made four of 17 attempts and was 5-of-10 from the free throw line. The Cowgirls were out rebounded 45-25 by the taller and quicker Aggie inside players.
Southland Conference in the NCAA Tournament
· The Southland Conference is 18-24 all-time in the NCAA tournament.
· This marks the fifth time a Southland team has been a No. 15 seed, including four times in the last five years.
· McNeese State is the eighth Southland team to earn the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament after not winning the regular season title.
· The Southland has had one team make it to the Final Four. Former member Louisiana-Monroe accomplished the feat in 1985.
· Since 2000, the highest seed a Southland team has received was No. 11, when Stephen F. Austin made it to the second round in 2000.
· The best-ever seed by a Southland team was in 1985 when former conference member Louisiana-Monroe was No. 2, and fell to Old Dominion, 57-47, in the Final Four in Austin, Texas.
· The current members of the conference are 13-29 in the tournament. Stephen F. Austin has won 10 times while Lamar has earned the other three wins.
Southland in the WNIT
The Southland Conference has sent a team to the WNIT for six consecutive years with Central Arkansas earning its first invitation this season. Since 2007, the conference has only picked up one WNIT win when Texas State defeated Prairie View A&M in the first round before falling victim to Texas Tech in the second round. A team from the Southland has never won the WNIT but has appeared in two championship games. In 1986, Northwestern State fell to Idaho 91-100, and in 1995, the Lady Demons lost to Texas A&M, 81-85.
Last Year in the WNIT: Lamar Falls to Arkansas in First Round
The Lamar University women's basketball team saw its hopes of a 2011 postseason title come to an end with a 91-65 loss to Arkansas in the first round of the WNIT. Jenna Plumley, who played in her final game in a Lamar uniform, led the Lady Cardinals with 15 points and four assists. Kalis Loyd had 14 points, while Trashanna Smith, another senior who played her final game for Lamar, had 12 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Despite the loss, 2010-11 was still a successful season for the Lady Cardinals, who advanced to postseason play for the second year in a row. Lamar was 51-16 over the last two seasons, which the most wins in the history of the program over that time span.
Southland in the WBI
In the three years of the Women's Basketball Invitational, the Southland has always had at least one team represent the conference. This postseason will mark the first time two teams from the conference will appear in the WBI with Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin. In the inaugural year in 2010, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi made a run to the final four before falling to Memphis. Last year, Central Arkansas appeared in Division I postseason for the first time in program history after completing the transition from Division II and lost in the first round to eventual tournament champions Alabama-Birmingham.
Megan Herbert Named Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year
For the second consecutive year, Central Arkansas junior forward Megan Herbert has been named the women's basketball player of the year. Herbert, a native a Rogers, Ark., is the first player to win back-to-back player of the year honors since Stephen F. Austin's Katrina Price did it back in 1997 and 1998. Herbert is the second player in conference history to be named player of the year and defensive player of the year in the same season, and the sixth player in conference history to earn first-team all-conference honors three times. A three-time, first-team all-conference selection, Herbert led the conference in double-doubles (18) and ranked second in the conference in scoring (17.6), rebounding (11.1) and field goal percentage (52.9). Herbert also ranked fourth in the nation in double-doubles and ninth in rebounds.
Porsha Roberts Named Southland's Freshman of the Year
Roberts is the fourth Stephen F. Austin player to be selected as the league's top freshman and the first since LaToya Mills earned the honor in 2003. A native of Waco, Texas, Roberts was the second leading scoring for the Ladyjacks (8.6) while leading SFA in rebounding (6.0), blocks (1.9) and field goal percentage (47.5). Roberts, who was an honorable mention all-conference selection, led all freshmen in two categories, including field goal percentage and blocks. Roberts tied a SFA single-game record with eight blocks in a game against Texas State.
Ashlee Mells Named Southland's Top Newcomer
Mells, a junior guard from Grand Prairie, Texas, became the first Ladyjack to be named newcomer of the year since Lori Davis won the award in 1990. A transfer from Indiana University, Mells ranked third on the team in scoring (6.4) and field goal percentage (45.8) in helping SFA finish second in the West Division. In conference play, Mells averaged 10.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest. Mells started the last 12 regular season games for SFA and had a career-high 19 points against both Southeastern Louisiana and Sam Houston State on Jan. 7 and Jan. 25, respectively.
Matt Daniel Earns Coach of the Year Honors
Central Arkansas coach Matt Daniel was named the conference coach of the year after leading the Sugar Bears to their first Division I regular-season conference title. Daniel led Central Arkansas to a 14-2 conference record and the No. 1 seed in the 2012 Southland Conference Tournament, which begins Tuesday at the Leonard E. Merrell Center in Katy, Texas. It is the second time Daniel has been honored as the conference coach of the year, having won the award after the 2009-10 season.
2012 Southland Tournament Recaps...
McNeese State 67, Southeastern Louisiana 55
Behind a combined 37 points from guards Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett and a career-high 21 rebounds from forward Kendra Wells, the Cowgirls overcame a 14-point first half deficit to pull away with a 67-55 win over the Lady Lions to advance to the semifinal round. Ashlyn Baggett led all scorers with 19 points, while Caitlyn Baggett added 18 for McNeese. Jenkins scored 18, which allowed her to reach the 1,000-point mark in her career with the Lady Lions.
Texas State 74, Sam Houston State 66
Ashley Ezeh scored 13 of her 24 points as Texas State outscored Sam Houston State 34-15 in the final 15:59 to capture a 74-66 victory in Tuesday's quarterfinal round game at Merrell Center, the school's first tournament win since 2003. Sam Houston State's Sequeena Thomas, who entered Tuesday as the nation's second-leading rebounded, pulled down 17 boards to go along with 25 points and six blocked shots. Yet while Thomas was able to establish her presence in the paint, the effort of Ezeh (11 rebounds) proved to be an effective counter.
Nicholls State 79, Central Arkansas 59
Top-seeded Central Arkansas had come back from a 16-point deficit against Nicholls State, rallying to defeat the Colonels 66-59 on January 18. The Sugar Bears found themselves in a similar hole on Tuesday evening, only this time, there would be no comeback. The emotionally charged Colonels hit a conference-tournament record 14 3-pointers against the regular season champions en route to a shocking 79-59 upset that also marked Nicholls' first victory in Southland tournament annals. No one had more for Nicholls than forward LiAnn McCarthy, who scored a game-high 32 points, including seven 3-pointers, which tied UTSA's Jordan Stark (2009) for the single-game record in tournament play.
Stephen F. Austin 73, Lamar 64
In an up-and-down affair between two evenly matched teams, it stood to figure someone had to blink in the closing minutes. Stephen F. Austin held its ground, using an 11-0 run in the final 3:56 to fend off Lamar 73-64 and advance to Thursday's semifinal, marking the first time since 2007 the Ladyjacks moved past the opening round. The Ladyjacks shot .619 (13 of 21) from the field in the second half, including six of their nine 3-pointers.
McNeese State 76, Texas State 46
McNeese delivered a near-perfect storm on Thursday, trapping Texas State in the middle of a 20-minute deluge that swept the Cowgirls into Friday's championship game and the Bobcats heading back to San Marcos. The defending tournament champions opened the game with a 17-0 run and followed with a 23-0 spurt on their way to a dominating 76-46 victory, putting them in position to win a second consecutive title. McNeese shot 59 percent in the first half, including six 3-pointers, as six players scored in double figures for the Cowgirls. Candace LaCombe led the way with 16 points, while Markita Hull added 13 points to go along with a career-high 17 rebounds.
Stephen F. Austin 66, Nicholls State 57
A smothering defense and a dominate effort on the glass helped pace Stephen F. Austin to a 66-57 win over upset-minded Nicholls State on Thursday afternoon, sending SFA (23-8) to Friday's title game, where they will face defending tournament champion McNeese State. The Ladyjacks held the Colonels (15-16) to just 31.5 percent shooting and held a 43-26 rebounding edge, but committed 17 turnovers, which allowed Nicholls -- who shocked top-seed Central Arkansas on Tuesday -- to remain in the contest before keeping the Colonels without a field goal in the final 2:39.
McNeese State 60, Stephen F. Austin 56
Redemption found its way toward Caitlyn Baggett on Friday night, which led to McNeese State finding itself back in the NCAA tournament. Baggett, who missed a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left, knocked down a pair with five seconds remaining to give the Cowgirls a 62-58 win over Stephen F. Austin for the school's second consecutive Southland Conference tournament championship and an automatic bid to next weekend's Big Dance. Baggett, who finished with 21 points and was named the tournament's most valuable player, iced the game with two free throws with 0.9 seconds left after an SFA turnover. The final flurry of free throws from Baggett concluded a wild final 1:21, which came to pass when Tammara Marion knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner that tied the game at 56, capping off an intense second half in which neither McNeese (26-7) nor SFA (23-9) led by more than four points.
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