SLU Lady Lions punch ticket to NCAA Tournament for first time in program history
LAKE CHARLES, La. (WVUE) - The greatest Southeastern Lady Lion basketball season in program history got even greater Thursday (March 9) evening as they punched their ticket to “The Big Dance”.
The Lady Lions have earned their first-ever automatic bid to the NCAA National Championship Tournament after winning the Southland Conference Tournament Championship, defeating Lamar 66-57.
Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts and SLU alumn immediately Tweeted out a message of congratulations to the program who retired her jersey, recognizing her years as a former player.
Back in Hammond, SLU supporters arrived on campus to welcome the Lady Lions who returned home later that night with police escorts leading the caravan.
After trailing the entire first half, a third-quarter surge got Lady Lions back into the game with a 20-5 run following key adjustments to the rotation, which included sophomore Taylor Bell coming off the bench to score 17 of her total 22 points in the second half.
They were also able to shake off being without the team’s co-leading scorer Alexius Horne (12.3 ppg) and early foul trouble that allowed Lamar to open the game on a 9-2 run.
“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.”
True freshman starting point guard Jen Pierre had to sit on the bench for most of the first half due to two quick foul calls but the 5′5 guard bounced back in the second half, leading the Lady Lions in rebounds with 11.
“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.”
With order restored to the offensive flow, SLU outscored Lamar 26-11 in the third quarter.
SLU took a 53-47 lead in the final period but Lamar had another run in them. Portia Adams pulled the Cardinals within 59-57 before SLU was able to go on one last 7-0 run of their own as Bell, Kailey Giaratano, and Natalie Kelly combined to go 7-of-8 from the free throw line.
Giaratano, who’s one of the team’s co-leading scorers (12.3 ppg), was finished with 15 points and was named SLC Tournament MVP.
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