The first round of the women’s Sun Belt Conference tournament didn’t finish without a couple of twists Saturday. A few notes from the first day of action in Hot Springs:
- First things first, No. 3 Western will indeed meet No. 6 South Alabama in the quarterfinals at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The Jaguars (15-15, 9-9 SBC) held on to beat No. 11-seeded Louisiana Lafayette 82-76 in their first-round game.
The Lady Toppers (20-9, 14-4 SBC) split two games with South Alabama in the regular season. They lost 88-78 on Jan. 6 in Mobile, Ala., but pulled out a 67-61 win on Feb. 17 in Bowling Green.
South Alabama Head Coach Rick Pietri said in his postgame news conference Saturday that beating Western is a tall order, but the Jaguars aren’t going to shy away from the opportunity.
“Those guys are really good, exceptionally talented,” Pietri said. “Their starting five is as talented as anybody’s in the league. Two All-Conference players, two players who have been All-Conference before that aren’t now, and they get to relax and watch us play.
“Clearly the odds are stacked against us, but we’re going to be here. We’re going to show up, and we’re going to play the game, and we’re going to see what happens.”
- In other first-round news, No. 8 Arkansas State downed No. 9 Troy, despite trailing by nine with 11 minutes left. The Red Wolves will meet top-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock at noon Sunday.
- No. 4-seeded Denver also eliminated No. 13 Louisiana-Monroe with a 69-57 win. The Pioneers will meet the No. 12 seed, New Orleans, at 12:15 p.m. Sunday.
- Yeah, you read that right. No. 12 New Orleans pulled a huge upset over No. 5 Florida Atlantic, 51-50.
UNO’s Nicole Holmes hit two free throws with 2.9 seconds left to send the Privateers, who won just four conference games in the regular season, to the quarterfinals.
“This was quite a win for us,” UNO Head Coach Amy Champion said in her postgame news conference. “When we arrived here, I don’t think anyone thought we could do it. Based on a number of circumstances that’s surrounded our program the last six or seven months, everything’s been such a doubt. Today we took another step forward in proving to people in this country that we are a competitive basketball team.”
- UNO’s dramatic win wasn’t the only surprise of the night, as No. 10 seed North Texas upset No. 7 –seeded Florida International, 61-51. The Mean Green will next take on No. 2 Middle Tennessee at 2:15 p.m. Sunday.
Herald Sports Editor Jonathan Lintner will have full coverage of the Lady Toppers’ game against South Alabama, as well as the men’s quarterfinals matchup with Arkansas State at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
For more on the Lady Toppers’ preparation for the tournament, read the preview in Friday’s Herald.