XU women seek comforts of home in GCAC final
March 7, 2010
NEW ORLEANS — For the first time in 15 years,
the Xavier University of Louisiana women's basketball team can win a Gulf Coast
Athletic Conference Tournament on its home floor.
The Gold Nuggets, 27-5 and winner of 20 in a row,
will play LSU-Shreveport (23-5) at 7 p.m. Monday at The Barn for the title.
Both teams already are assured of automatic bids to the NAIA Division I
National Championship, which will begin March 17 at Jackson, Tenn.
"It would be nice to cut down the nets in our own
building," Xavier Coach Bo Browder said. "But first we've got to deal with
LSU-Shreveport. No matter where we play them, we expect a difficult game."
That's been the case the last two seasons. The Lady
Pilots were 3-0 against Xavier a year ago — including a 59-56 victory at
LSUS in the GCAC Tournament semifinals — and the Nuggets won both
regular-season meetings this year. Average winning margin in those five
games: 4.2 points.
"There's no pressure to get to nationals, which is
nice," Browder said. "But you're still looking at two teams trying to go to
Jackson with some momentum, maybe get a better seeding. We've had some great
battles with LSUS the last two years, and this championship game should be
another great one."
Xavier outscored LSUS 6-0 in the final 2:03 of a 48-45
victory in Shreveport in the conference opener Jan. 7, then led the final
26½ minutes of a 54-47 victory at The Barn on Feb. 6 — but it was a
two-point game with 2:40 remaining, and the Nuggets clinched with 6-of-6 free
throws in the final 45 seconds.
Another low-scoring game could occur. Xavier leads
NAIA Division I in scoring defense, allowing 51.7 points per game, and LSUS
is third at 53.2.
The Nuggets are in the GCAC Tournament final for a
conference-record 17th time. They've won the championship 10 times, most
recently in 2008 at Loyola when Shayla Boyd's basket with seven-tenths of a
second remaining gave the Nuggets a 65-64 victory.
Xavier won the GCAC Tournament at The Barn in 1994
and 1995, but from 1996-2005 the tournament was played at neutral sites,
with the Nuggets winning the title five times. The tournament returned to
campus facilities in 2006 — highest seeds play host in each round —
but Xavier hasn't had home-court advantage until this year.
"Last year we didn't even have home court for the
semifinals," Browder said, referring to the loss to LSUS which cost the Nuggets
an automatic bid to nationals. "We didn't want to make that trip again this
year. We focused on winning the regular season."
Not only did the Nuggets win the regular-season
championship this year, but they also won it by four games over LSUS and six
games over three-time defending champion Loyola. The Nuggets became the
second GCAC women's team — joining Xavier in 1997-98 — to finish 18-0 in
conference. They are 20th in the coaches poll with their highest final national
ranking since 2005.
Five All-GCAC selections will play Monday, including
player of the year Brittany Powell of Xavier and newcomer of the year Sharday
Cotton of LSUS. The others are Jasmine Grant of Xavier and Valerie Huizar and
TiKandis Edwards of LSUS. Powell and Huizar, both seniors, have been all-conference twice.
Browder was voted coach of the year, and Ronnie Howell
of LSUS earned that award a year ago.
LSUS is in the final for the second straight year. The
Lady Pilots lost 61-40 at Loyola for the title in 2009.
LSUS was the last GCAC team to beat the Nuggets at
The Barn — 48-45 on Feb. 7, 2009 — but since then Xavier has won 15 straight
in its gym against conference opponents, twice in this year's tournament. The
Nuggets' current overall win streak at The Barn is 11, and they've won 91 times
in their last 97 games on campus.
No road team has won in this year's GCAC Tournament
or in 2009. Xavier produced the last road victory when Boyd outscored Loyola
6-0 in the final 75 seconds of the 2008 final. The only current Nuggets who
played in that game are senior LaTashia Wise and juniors Danielle Jones and