According to head coach Nate Kilbert, the biggest difference between this season and last year’s has been the overall passion portrayed by the Arkansas-Pine Bluff women’s basketball team.
Even though he wasn’t the coach in 2011-12, Kilbert said he heard reports that by the end of the SWAC tournament last year, most of the players were just glad it was over.
But after Friday’s lost to Mississippi Valley State in the semifinals of the SWAC tournament in Garland, Texas, there were a lot of tears shed. Including a few from Kilbert.
“There was some crying in the dressing room,” Kilbert said Sunday. “For them to actually care; they felt something and they had passion for the game.
“They showed me they had passion. Having passion is part of winning and it is part of being a champion.
“It brought me to tears.”
A’Shanti Weathers scored 20 points to lead all scorers, and third-seeded Valley shot 53.3 percent from three-point range in taking a 69-55 victory in the SWAC semifinals at the Curtis Culwell Center.
Chi Chi Okwumabua nearly got a double-double in her final UAPB game, but finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. She was 7 of 13 from the field and had three steals.
Lakendra Marsh finished with 17 points, Jenise Gentry added nine and Asia Rhines-Malone grabbed 10 rebounds. All three are seniors.
“It was an awesome feeling,” Kilbert said referring to UAPB’s run in the tournament. “It was great the way our seniors played the way they did in the tournament.
“I just hate that we aren’t going to have them next year.”
Kilbert said his seniors, who also include Miracle Pitts, have “done so many things to help make us good.”
“If you had asked me at the beginning of the year if we were going to win 13 games, I probably would have said no,” Kilbert said. “If you had asked me if we were going to make it to the semifinals of the tournament, I probably would have said no.
“But at this point, if you had asked if we could have won the championship, I would have said absolutely.”
UAPB went from winning just one game last season to winning 13 games in 2012-13 and making it to the semifinals of the SWAC Tournament.
“Absolutely we had a chance to win it,” Kilbert said. “We executed our offense and we believed in ourselves.
“We were playing some real good basketball.”
Friday’s loss to Valley ended a four-game winning streak that dated back to Feb. 25 when the Lady Lions defeated Jackson State 70-64 at home.
In the quarterfinals against Southern, UAPB had four players score double figures, including a double-double from Rhines-Malone as the Lady Lions won 63-58.
“That was probably our best game in a while,” Kilbert said. “We had so many people step their game up that night and help us win the ball game.
“We dominated the game both inside and out and our execution was nearly flawless.”
Rhines-Malone scored 13 points on 6 of 12 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds. Okwumabua scored 12 points, Gentry scored 10 and Christinia Lasane contributed with 10 points.
“We made all the big plays against Southern,” Kilbert said. “I thought Southern played a good game as well, we just played a little bit better.
“We believed in what we were doing and these kids wanted to go to the championship.”
Kilbert said the first-round game against Alcorn State took a lot out of them, because “they are such a bad match-up for us.” Kilbert said if UAPB had a little bit more depth at the guard position, then maybe the Lady Lions could have made it to the championship.
“We played three games in four days and we aren’t built to do that,” Kilbert said. “Probably the best team went to the championship. We wouldn’t have had anything for Prairie View.”
After Friday’s loss, Kilbert stressed to the underclassmen about getting a better seed next year.
“I just wish I could have some of the seniors back for another year,” Kilbert said. “We will really have to get out there and find us some kids to replace them.”
SWAC WOMEN’S FINAL
Prairie View 100, Valley 87 (4OT)
GARLAND, Texas – In four overtime periods, No. 4 seeded Prairie View A&M captured its third consecutive title with a 100-87 win over No. 3 seed Mississippi Valley State on Saturday.
Prairie View (17-14) receives the SWAC automatic bid to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. The Lady Panthers outscored Valley (17-15) 15-2 in the final overtime period while shooting 39 percent for the game.
Kiara Etienne scored 31 points to lead all scorers hitting 8 of 14 from three-point range. Larissa Scott shot 10 of 17 to finish with 24 points.
For the Devilettes, Kristina Clemons scored 26 points.
SWAC MEN’S FINAL
Southern 45, Prairie View 44
GARLAND, Texas – Southern got its first NCAA tournament berth since 2006 with a 45-44 victory over Prairie View in the SWAC tournament championship game on Saturday.
Derick Beltran led Southern with 13 points on 6 of 12 shooting with seven rebounds. Southern led 22-19 at halftime but was outscored 25-23 in the second half.
Jourdan DeMuynck led Prairie View with 15 points on 6 of 16 shooting with nine rebounds and three assists. Carl Blair contributed with 12 points and Jules Montgomery chipped in with eight points and 12 rebounds.
Prairie View was 17 of 51 from the floor and 3 of 14 from the three-point arch. Prairie View made 7 of 13 from the free-throw line.
Southern was 15 of 45 from the floor and 1 of 10 from beyond the arch. Southern was 14 fo 19 from the free-throw line.