HOUSTON — For the first time in school history, the Southeastern Louisiana University Lady Lions are Southland Conference champions.
Southeastern (19-9, 14-4 SLC) jumped out to a 20-6 lead after the opening quarter and was never threatened on the way to a 66-45 victory over HCU (11-18, 6-12 SLC) Wednesday night at Sharp Gym.
With the win, SLU secured its first-ever Southland Conference championship and the top seed in next week’s Jersey Mike’s Southland Conference Tournament presented by Louisiana Travel in Lake Charles.
As the No. 1 seed, Southeastern will receive a bye all the way into the semifinals and will need just one win to advance to Thursday’s 4 p.m. championship game, which will air on ESPNU. The winner of the tournament will receive the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
The top seed and regular season championship also guarantee Southeastern that its season won’t end in Lake Charles. Even if SLU fails to cut down the nets in Lake Charles, Southeastern will earn a berth in the WNIT as a consolation prize.
The win completed a tremendous journey for the Southeastern program under head coach Ayla Guzzardo. Since taking over her hometown university, Guzzardo has led SLU to a better winning percentage every season and has guided the Lady Lions to three straight winning seasons for the first time since the 1993-94 through 1995-96 seasons.
“We’re overwhelmed and blessed,” Guzzardo said “Our administration and our community have supported us every step of the way. But all credit goes to these players and my coaching staff. We’ve been close before and they helped us finally achieve this championship. I’m so happy to do this at my hometown university with these coaches and players.”
Jen Pierre led three Lady Lions in double figures with 17 points, while teammates Alexius Horne and Cierria Cunningham chipped in with 13 and 10 points, respectively. Hailey Giaratano added nine of her own to go with a team-high three assists. Natalie Kelly led SLU on the boards with 10 rebounds.
As it has done all season, SLU earned Wednesday’s win on the defensive end. The SLC leaders in scoring defense limited HCU to 29.6 percent (16-for-54) shooting and forced the Huskies into 19 turnovers. Pierre led Southeastern with three steals, while Daija Harvey added two.
“We hang our hats on our defense,” Guzzardo commented. “We’ve been sharpening our defensive fundamentals since the offseason. We always want to knock down shots, but on the nights where there not falling, we know we can count on our defense.”
HCU, the 2021-22 SLC regular-season champion, saw its season end Wednesday, as the Huskies were unable to qualify for the SLC Tournament. N’Denasija Collins led the hosts with a double-double, finishing with 10 points and 14 rebounds. Julia Vujakovic added 11 points for HCU.
After a dominant first quarter, Southeastern stretched the lead to as much as 23 in the second quarter. The Lady Lions took a 41-22 lead into the break and HCU got no closer than 16 in the second half.
SLU will open play at the Southland Conference Tournament with an 11 a.m. semifinal game versus a to be determined opponent Wednesday. Wednesday’s semifinal game will air on ESPN+.
*Courtesy SLU Sports Information