When the SFA women’s basketball team had a 37-game home winning streak snapped in the regular season finale, it might have been the best thing to happen for the Jacks.
SFA was cruising through the regular season. Before SFA’s loss to UTRGV in the regular season finale, the closest margin of victory during WAC play was eight points. And that happened two days before the loss.
So, a loss in the regular season finale gave a dominant team an opportunity to re-focus. And re-focus they did.
One day after settling into its first game at the Orleans Arena, SFA hit 13 3-pointers en route to a 74-57 win over GCU to win the WAC Tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
“I think we all had that wake up call after that loss,” SFA junior guard Zya Nugent said. “I think we responded well winning the tournament. After that game we definitely got the turnaround.”
Nugent earned WAC Tournament MVP honors on Saturday. The junior guard finished with a game-high 20 points and also hauled in 12 rebounds. Nugent scored 13 of her 20 points in the second quarter. And it was at that time that SFA really won the game. Nugent was 5-6 from the field in the quarter and SFA outscored GCU, 22-8, to take a 33-19 lead into the halftime break.
“They knew the task at hand,” SFA head coach Mark Kellogg said. “I trusted them. They’ve been here before and they’ve never given me any reason not to. We were settled in much earlier today.”
GCU fought back in the third quarter behind Ja’mya Powell-Smith and Kiyley Flowers. Both had seven points in the quarter as GCU outscored the Lady Jacks, 18-16, in the quarter. The problem for GCU was that every time they got within five or six points, SFA responded.
With 4:04 left in the third quarter, Ja’mya Powell-Smith’s three cut the deficit to three. But, SFA’s Brianna Mitchell hit a driving layup and knocked down the free throw in response. And when GCU made it a 5-point game after a second-chance layup by Kiyley Flowers, SFA responded with a 9-2 run to end the third quarter.
“We were just prepared for it,” SFA senior guard Stephanie Visscher said. “We knew that GCU’s a really good team. And they take other teams out of what they do. So we just tried to talk to each other and stay calm and stay poised … just help each other out … stay together as a team. That’s the way you got to do it, especially with a team that puts so much pressure like GCU does.”
And in the fourth quarter, SFA never let GCU get closer than 12 points. Jay McChristine’s free throws with 7:44 to play cut the deficit to 12.
“I thought defensively, we battled all night long,” Kellogg said. “We weren’t great at times, offensively. Turned over a lot. But we did enough.”
But SFA, once again, responded with an Aaliyah Johnson layup and a pair of Visscher free throws. A pair of Tasharian Robinson 3-pointers pushed the lead to 22 with 4:23 to play. And the Lady Jacks cruised to a tournament championship in their first year in the WAC.
Stephanie Visscher finished with 15 points, four rebounds and five assists. Tasharian Robinson hit five 3-pointers en route to a 19-point night.
GCU was led by Ja’mya Power-Smith’s 14 points. Jay McChristine and Kiyley Flowers were also in double figures with 10 and 12 points, respectively.
SFA was 12-21 from 3-point land. GCU was 4-20 from distance.
GCU finishes its season 22-8 overall and 14-4 in WAC play. Stephen F. Austin is now 28-4 overall and awaits Monday’s Selection Show to find out its opponent in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Zya Nugent was named WAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player for her efforts this weekend. Nugent averaged 20.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Stephanie Visscher was also named to the All-Tournament Team. Visscher averaged 14.5 points in the two wins.