UIW thrives in underdog role to win Southland crown, advance to NCAA Tournament

By Tyler Tyre, Sports Editor
Posted 3/13/22

“Before we went on the floor, we talked about how everyone here would remember this day for the rest of their lives,” said UIW head coach Jeff Doe. “Having this experience, you’re never going to forget this, and obviously, what a memorable game it was.”

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UIW thrives in underdog role to win Southland crown, advance to NCAA Tournament

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The University of Incarnate Word felt doubted the whole Southland Conference Tournament.

Coming in as the fifth seed, the Cardinals had to run through a gauntlet to start the tournaent, but they used what they saw as being looked down on as motivation, beating eighth seed Nicholls State 74-73, fourth seed McNeese 90-63 and No. 1 seed Houston Baptist 54-33 over the course of three days to reach the conference final.

Then, they overcame the biggest hurdle of them all on Sunday, as the Cardinals beat third seed Southeastern Louisiana 56-52 in a thrilling overtime game at the Merrell Center to take the Southland Conference crown and clinch the conferences automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

“Before we went on the floor, we talked about how everyone here would remember this day for the rest of their lives,” said UIW head coach Jeff Doe. “Having this experience, you’re never going to forget this, and obviously, what a memorable game it was.”

It was a low scoring overtime, as Myra Bell scored a bucket early in the period to put UIW up two but Caitlyn Williams tied things with 47 seconds left.

UIW had the answer as Jaaucklyn Moore hit a jumper with 27 seconds left, but Southeastern got a steal in the backcourt and was fouled with a chance to tie the game. But Bell missed both free throws and Southeastern missed a layup with seconds left in the game to end things.

“I feel like being the fifth seed, not many people thought we would come in and win it and get the chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. But with how we’ve played, we were the best team, so now we’re going to go and give the Southland conference the best representation in the tournament that we can.”
It was a defensive battle early, as the teams were tied at five after the first quarter and the teams combined for 11 turnovers in the quarter.

But both teams turned that around in the second, as the offenses came alive. Southeastern scored eight straight points early in the quarter before UIW came back with a 7-0 run of its own. But Southeastern answered and after a hail Mary 3-pointer went in at the halftime buzzer, they held a five-point lead.

“We knew that it would be a game where we both went on runs,” said Tania Gardner. “But going into halftime after she hit that bank 3-pointer, it was a little frustrating. We were only down five, but we weren’t playing our best basketball. We were right there the whole time so we knew we just needed to lock in, settle down and keep playing our brand of basketball.”

UIW came back in the third quarter and went on a run to start things and eventually tied the game heading into the fourth.

Things got crazy in the fourth quarter, Southeastern held the lead heading into the final minutes, but UIW tied things at 42 by getting a 3-pointer and then took a 48-44 lead. But Southeastern hit a 3-pointer and then forced a turnover, getting a layup to take the lead. Southeastern only went 1-3 from the line on their next two trips to the line however and it left UIW a chance.

The Cardinals threw it to Gardner in the post with seconds left and although she missed the layup, she was fouled and made both free throws to force overtime.

“This whole thing is surreal,” Moore said. “We used to talk about this all the time, we knew anything was possible and like everyone has said it just feels great. I’ve told people before, my dream is to go to the NCAA Tournament, so to be able to do that, to win this conference and have that chance, it feels great.”

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