TWU didn’t exactly end its regular season on the best note, losing its final two games, but those games are a distant memory for the Pioneers.
There was plenty to remember in one of the best regular seasons TWU has had. The Pioneers amassed a 15-11 overall record while posting a 10-6 Lone Star Conference mark, which earned them the No. 3 seed in the LSC tournamet. They’ll face No. 6 seed Texas A&M-Kingsville at noon today at the Allen Event Center.
“We’re not going to let our last game define our season,” TWU coach Beth Jillson said. “We have a great opportunity to play in the conference tournament and to go on to postseason play. We’ve put ourselves in a good spot at a No. 3 seed. This is a new season for everybody. It doesn’t matter what seed you’re at.”
TWU finished tied for second with Tarleton State, which is the highest the Pioneers have finished in the conference.
After losing 69-62 in their final home game to Texas A&M-Commerce, the Pioneers aren’t taking anyone lightly.
“You can’t overlook anybody in this conference,” Jillson said. “We just got beat by Texas A&M-Commerce, who is the No. 7 seed and was fighting for a spot in the conference tournament. Then they turn around and beat Tarleton State. That’s why we’re sharing second — because they got beat.”
A&M-Kingsville has given the Pioneers perhaps their two most dramatic games of the season.
TWU defeated the Javelinas 72-69 at Kitty Magee Arena on Jan. 7. Kenesha Saygo, who recently was named the LSC freshman of the year, scored a career-high 21 points and the final four points for TWU at the free throw line.
On Feb. 12, the Pioneers earned a thrilling 107-102 road victory in triple overtime. TWU senior Rebekah Cluley hit a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime and back-to-back 3s to send it to double overtime on the way to a career-high 31 points.
“They switch every screen, so they play pretty much five guards on the floor,” Jillson said of the Javelinas. “They can all shoot and they can all get to the rim. Defensively, when they’re switching every screen, we have to expose mismatches and get the ball inside. We’re an inside-out team, so let’s get layups inside and post touches so that will open everything else up for our guards.”
With the Pioneers struggling to collect rebounds in their last two games, Jillson wants improved rebounding as well as a concerted effort on ball security.
“It’s all starts on the defensive end, getting stops and getting out in transition,” Jillson said. “We’re really good when we push tempo and when we run, so defensively we’ve got to contain. Last time, they did a good job of getting to the rim and getting the free throw line, so we’ve got to do a better job containing the bounce.”
The Pioneers had three other winners at the conference banquet. Senior Mary Kovtun was selected to the inaugural All-LSC Defensive Team, Cluley was named second-team all-conference and junior Ria Pateraki earned all-conference honorable mention.
The No. 3 seed could be a lucky sign for the Pioneers. The last time they won the LSC tournament, in 2011, they were the No. 3 seed and coming off a loss.
Jillson said she likes her team’s tournament experience and that its depth is similar to the 2010-11 squad.
“I think the biggest thing is our depth,” Jillson said. “We have a lot of different weapons that we can use. We’ve really had our bench step up this year. There have been games where they’ve had 40 points. Having that depth is so key, especially if you want to make that deep run in the LSC tournament and in regionals. You’ve got to have a lot of different players that can step up and contribute.”
If the Pioneers win, they’ll advance to Friday’s semifinals against No. 2 seed Tarleton State, which defeated A&M-Commerce 84-55 on Wednesday.
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.