The Sam Houston State Bearkats and the Stephen F. Austin State Lumberjacks are taking their Battle of the Piney Woods rivalry to the hardwood on Feb. 2 for a mid-week Southland Conference battle.
“This is Stephen F., if we can’t get up [motivated] for Stephen F. then it’s ridiculous,” head coach Brenda Welch-Nichols said. “This is our biggest rival. It’s a fun game, we know that we’re each other’s rivals and we just have to be ready to play.”
The Bearkats are coming off their first victory of the season, defeating the Southeastern Louisiana Lady Lions 68-61 on Jan. 28. The team will look to build off that steppingstone victory and carry the momentum into tomorrow’s game.
“I’m just so excited they got it,” Welch-Nichols said. “They work hard every day. We just have to build off it now and I think they are excited. They know they can do it and it’s kind of just a different feeling.”
Coach Welch-Nichols and the Bearkats have had a couple of solid practices since their first win. With SFA, the No. 1 team in the SLC, next on the schedule, the team will need to play with confidence if they want to pull off an upset.
“Their confidence out there [on the court] is great now,” Welch-Nichols said. “Just starting practice today, they were very confident in what we needed to accomplish and take care of business.”
Five Bearkats in particular are familiar with what it takes to upset the strong-teamed Ladyjacks. Seniors guard Morghen Day, center Jasmine McCants, junior guard Angela Delaney and sophomores forward Lydia Baxter and center Ashleigh Cooper, were members of the 2015 SLC runner-up team that knocked out the No. 2 seed Ladyjacks 78-70 in the Southland Quarterfinals.
The two teams have not met since then and Day believes the Jacks will be out for payback when they play tomorrow.
“They’re most definitely out for revenge,” Day said. “You can tell they weren’t expecting to lose to us [last season]. They hate to lose to us just as much as we hate to lose to them.”
SFA is currently 16-3 overall and 7-1 in the conference. The team’s success is largely due to the play of their dynamic senior guards, Taylor Ross and Bretney Branch.
Ross ranks fourth in the SLC in scoring, averaging 17.9 points per game, while Branch is ninth in the conference, averaging 14.4 points per game. In the last meeting between SHSU and SFA, Ross scored a game-high 32 points, while Branch added 11 points.
“SFA has some senior guards, which anytime you have a couple of senior guards it’s a huge advantage,” Welch-Nichols said. “They have some really good guards and a big post game, so we’re going to have to be ready.”
All eyes will be on the Bearkats tomorrow afternoon to see how they will respond after notching their first win. SHSU has a chance to shock the conference with a win against SFA. Day said the Kats just have to play their game if they want the upset to become a reality.
“Now that we got the feel of a win, I feel like it will help us come into this game and be able to play a team like them,” Day said. “We definitely have to play our game. If we try to play to their game, that’s when we’re going to get out; but if we play our game like we did last time, I think we’ll be good.”
The Bearkats will host the Ladyjacks in Johnson Coliseum on Feb. 2. Tipoff is set for 5:15 p.m.