Toughest road possible for women’s basketball at tournament
The women’s basketball team picked up its first 20-win year since the 2010-11 season, going 20-10. However, after losing four of their last five games, the Cougars have gone from being a potential third seed to getting stuck in the fifth seed following their 57-61 loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats Tuesday night.
Being the fifth seed means the Cougars are going to be in an uphill battle throughout the American Athletic Conference Tournament. Had they placed in the top four, they would have received a first round bye into the quarterfinals. Now, they will have to play an extra game and spend more energy to get to the title game.
With many strong teams ahead of the Cougars, they have to prepare themselves for the difficulties they will face.
“We’re delighted to have the opportunity,” said head coach Ronald Hughey. “Whoever we play, that’s the cards we were dealt, so we’ll be ready to play.”
The Cougars will open their tournament play against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Saturday. Tulsa comes in as the No. 12 seed after finishing with a 3-13 conference record, 9-20 overall, but the Cougars cannot underestimate their opponent.
Tulsa beat the Cougars in their only matchup this season, a 77-83 loss for the Cougars on Feb. 10 at Tulsa. In that game, the Tulsa guards accounted for 57 points as the Cougars fell behind early and failed to finish a comeback attempt.
Sophomore guard Shug Dickson is Tulsa’s leading scorer for the season, with nearly 14 points per game. She put up 29 points against the Cougars. Their second leading scorer, senior guard Erika Wakefield, picked up 20 points against the Cougars.
Defending those two should be a key priority for the Cougars, as should getting better production from its cast of players. Sophomore guards Jasmyne Harris and Angela Harris have been the heart of this year’s team, leading the team in points per game (19.9) and total assists (110), respectively. However, in their lone matchup versus Tulsa, both failed to produce.
Angela Harris finished with 26 points and only turned the ball over once, but Tulsa was able to hold Jasmyne Harris to 15 points and only two assists. The Cougars received help from junior guard Serithia Hawkins, who finished with a 14-point, 13 rebound double-double, but it was not enough to complete their comeback attempt.
If the Cougars are able to beat Tulsa in the first round, they will go on to play the fourth seed Cincinnati in the quarterfinals. Cincinnati beat the Cougars in their two matchups this season, and in both games, three or more Cincinnati players scored in double digits. The Cougars will have to address this if they meet Cincinnati for a third time this year.
The No. 20 ranked USF Bulls and UCF Knights, both 20-win teams, will start the tournament with the second and third seeds, respectively. Because of where the Cougars are seeded, they will not face either team unless they reach the conference title game. For that to become a reality, the Cougars will have to get past both of the previously mentioned teams and the No. 1 ranked UConn Huskies.
At 29-0, UConn has been the No. 1 team all season and has thoroughly handled all the other teams in the AAC, going undefeated for a third straight regular season. They are the favorites to win the tournament and have already defeated the Cougars once in a 35-95 blowout victory on Jan. 13.
The Cougars have not beaten any of the teams seeded above them this season and will need to play their best basketball of the season to make an attempt at the American Athletic Conference Championship on Tuesday.
The Cougars play the first round against Tulsa Saturday, March 3, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The game will be aired on ESPN3, and tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT.