McNeese women's basketball coach Brooks Donald Williams. (American Press Archives)
Last Modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 7:02 PM
Call it a double dose of scheduling quirks.
Tonight McNeese State is playing its first game at Burton Coliseum in a month, and facing conference rival Southeastern Louisiana for the first of two meetings in the season’s final five games.
The Cowgirls open the doubleheader at 5:30 p.m. as they try to keep pace with the three conference leaders, while the Cowboys will follow in the nightcap with an attempt to improve their seeding for next month’s conference tournament.
Due to the rodeo and a pair of road trips, McNeese has not played at Burton Coliseum since Jan. 19.
“We’re certainly excited for fans to see us in our home venue,” said Cowgirls coach Brooks Donald Williams. “Being back at practice at Burton and to have that continuity and our own locker room again, it’s very nice to get into a consistent daily routine.”
The Cowgirls (13-11, 8-5 Southland) are back in the conference title hunt after Saturday’s win at Lamar. McNeese is tied with Nicholls a game behind Oral Roberts, Sam Houston State and Lamar.
Donald Williams is not one to scoreboard watch, but with last Thursday’s results atop the league giving McNeese new life, she changed that policy.
“It was like a new life when we saw these scores. I shared them with the team immediately, and I never do,” she said. “Before Lamar we were walking around like the season’s over. It’s not nearly over. They were big scores for us and once again it’s working in our favor... the stars are aligning, but it’s so simple. We have to take care of us. If we don’t take care of us, it doesn’t matter if the stars are aligning.”
The Lions (10-14, 3-10) enter the game in ninth place, but a humbling loss to 10th-place Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has shown McNeese what happens when a team is overlooked.
“We have no room to judge any other teams,” Donald Williams said. “We have to respect everyone on any given day.”
Donald Williams said SLU has turned things around from the start of the season. The Lions are coming off an 83-80 double-overtime loss to SFA — a team that beat them by 42 points earlier this year.
“They’ve been up and down because of their youth,” Donald Williams said. “They’re just playing better and better.”
The Cowboys (10-13, 4-9) face an opponent coming off its most impressive win of the year.
SLU (10-13, 8-5) became just the second Southland team to beat SFA this season, knocking off the Lumberjacks 54-50 on Saturday.
“Late in the year, no one is unbeatable in our league,” said Cowboys coach Dave Simmons. “We see that every year in the tournament.”
The Lions have the same record as McNeese, though their seasons are mirror images of one another.
The Cowboys got off to a good start in nonconference play before struggling in the Southland, while the Lions stumbled through their nonconference schedule before turning it on in the league.
Simmons said SLU’s senior leaders, Brandon Fortenberry and Roosevelt Johnson, are clearly playing with the intensity of players who know their careers are coming to a close.
“Those guys are looking to go out on top,” Simmons said. “They have enough strength and leadership to where the other kids have caught on to that enthusiasm.”
McNeese, which all but assured itself of a spot in the conference tourney by beating Lamar on Saturday, is now focused on climbing up the standings for something better than the No. 8 seed.
“Right now they are the No. 4 and looking to maintain it. For us to climb up, we’ve got to beat a team like Southeastern,” Simmons said. “You have to express to a young team the value of moving up and going into the conference tournament with a swagger. If you’ve beaten a team you’re going to be facing, like a Southeastern, you go in with confidence.”