Ideally, a three-game losing streak is not how Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns women’s basketball saw their regular season concluding. Then again, in a conference that couldn’t be more wide open than it is, the Cajuns are just as primed as any to capture a Sun Belt Championship in 2023.
The final week of the regular season saw Louisiana fall at home to two of three teams tied for first in the SBC: the Texas State Bobcats 58–51 on Feb. 22 and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles 69–64 in overtime on Feb. 24, leaving the Cajuns to settle for a 10–8 conference record (16–14 overall).
Putting up their second-lowest first-half point total in conference play–their lowest (16) coming in their previous game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves–on a Wednesday afternoon in the Cajundome, Louisiana trailed Texas State 23–19 at the half. After jumping out to a brief lead, the Cajuns would spend much of the second quarter and on chasing the tail of the Bobcats.
Allowing Texas State to knock down three times as many free throws–the Bobcats made 18 of their 28 free throw attempts, 12 of 22 in the second half, compared to Louisiana’s six of 12–didn’t aid the Cajuns’ chase.
Louisiana’s leading average scorer Lanay Wheaton (12.3 points per game) totaled 23 points in the contest on nine of 22 shooting, but only four of 13 from three-point range. Tamera Johnson, Ragin’ Cajuns leading total scorer for the season (347 points), added nine points of her own with seven rebounds and a pair of blocks.
On Saturday afternoon in another heart-wrenching overtime loss, thankfully not to the Troy Trojans again, Louisiana fell flat against Southern Miss in the closing seconds after playing catch-up in the first half and matching the Golden Eagles blow-for-blow in the second.
Despite the Cajuns shooting 52.2% in the second half and overtime together, Southern Miss made more free throws at a more efficient rate throughout the game. The Golden Eagles’ size advantage never allowed Louisiana to grab an upper hand, out rebounding the Cajuns 39 to 28.
Two costly turnovers in overtime, one by Destiny Rice with 10 seconds left and the other by Wheaton with four seconds left, sealed the Cajuns’ fate in their season finale. Wheaton and Johnson combined for 31 points while Rice put up 13 of her own.
Albeit a disappointing finish, it has zero impact on the Cajuns’ outlook for the 2023 Hercules Tires SBC Women’s Basketball Championship.
The top seven seeds heading into the tournament are all separated by just four games. Sitting in front of the seventh seeded Cajuns are three teams tied for first at 13–5 (the James Madison Dukes, Texas State and Southern Miss) and three teams tied for fourth at 12–6 (the Georgia Southern Eagles, Old Dominion Monarchs and Troy).
With no clear favorite or run-away team, this is truly anyone’s tournament.
What’s more is no team will have home-field advantage. Every game of the 2023 SBC Women’s Championship will be played in the Pensacola Bay Center in Pensacola, Florida, beginning with the 12-seed Georgia State Panthers versus the 13-seed South Alabama Jaguars on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 11:30 a.m. CST.
The only identifiable advantages in the tournament are the first and second-round byes awarded to the top four seeds and the first-round bye awarded to seeds five through 10. Still, all these teams have faced each other at least once this season.
Head coach Garry Brodhead and the Ragin’ Cajuns entered last year’s conference tournament as the three seed. They lost in the semifinals to the UT Arlington Mavericks, who are no longer in the SBC, all the more reason for Louisiana to run the table.
The Ragin’ Cajuns begin tournament play in the second round on Wednesday, March 1 at 7:30 p.m. CST against the tenth-seeded Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Disregard their seeding and remember this is a Ragin’ Cajuns team that has the second-best scoring defense, second-highest turnover margin, fourth-most steals and fourth-best rebounding defense in the SBC.
Louisiana won’t be an easy group to eliminate.