March madness: Trojans ready to begin Sun Belt Conference Tournament against South Alabama
Published 3:00 am Tuesday, March 8, 2016
The Trojans kick off March Madness this Wednesday as they take on in-state rival South Alabama in the opening round of the Sun Belt Conference Women’s basketball tournament in New Orleans.
The Trojans finished the regular season with a 17-12 record and a conference record of 12-8, which was good enough to secure the fourth seed of the tournament. The Jaguars enter the game as the five seed after finishing the year 15-14 and 11-9.
“We have a lot of expectations going to New Orleans,” said Trojans head coach Chandra Rigby. “The road to the conference tournament was not as smooth as I would want it to be, but I believe it has made us better.”
The Trojans hope to buck the trend of falling in the first round of the tournament in back-to-back seasons. The last time the Trojans made it past the opening round game was in 2014, Rigby’s first season, when they defeated South Alabama.
The teams have met twice this season, with the Jaguars winning 75-71 and 65-63. This time the Trojans are looking for revenge.
“You can say that,” said Trojan senior Ashley Beverly Kelley. “We are also just worried about us. We are trying to fix the things that we need to fix so we won’t get the same results as last time.”
After starting 5-1 in the conference the Trojans lost seven of their next nine games, including the two against South Alabama.
“It wasn’t as good as it should have been, but it was a lot better than it could have been,” Rigby said. “A lot of teams would have folded. This team got back in the gym and said ‘no matter what it takes we are going to find a way to win.’”
The Trojans won seven of their last eight games, thanks to stronger play in the paint and better control of the glass.
“We have been rebounding from the guard to the post and we have been hungry for them,” Beverly Kelley said. “It made a big difference. Every time we out-rebounded someone, we won. We need to continue to do that and push the ball ahead.”
While the Trojans have improved, players don’t believe they’re playing their best yet.
“I feel like there is always room for improvement,” Kelley said. “We will get there when we get into the tournament.”
Kelley, ArJae’ Saunders and Caitlyn Ramirez will be looked on to step up, but players like Amanda Mendoza and Kristen Emerson could be dark horses in for the Trojans.
“We have to draw their offensive capabilities out,” Rigby said. “Then that makes it easier for the other three starters to score.”
The Trojans and the Jaguars will tip off on Wednesday afternoon with the winner moving on to play Friday against the winner of Arkansas State and Appalachian State at 11:30 a.m.
“We go into this tournament with faith and confidence,” Rigby said. “Just as we are going to win the first game, we are also preparing to win and stay all the way through Saturday and into Sunday and win the championship…
“We have the capability to do this,” Rigby said. “We are optimistic. We are going to take this one game at a time. There is no team in here that is too much of an advantage for us to over take.”