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After slow start, Bobcats where they want to be

Baton Rouge Advocate (03/18/2003)

By William Weathers

The Bobcats were 11-13 and on the outside looking when it came to even qualifying for the Southland Conference’s six-team postseason tournament.

“We had seven of our last nine games at home,” Southwest Texas coach Suzanne Fox said. “We talked about trying to put together a run. But we didn’t talk past that.”

With seven straight victories later — culminating with a 68-56 win over Texas-San Antonio in the SLC tournament -- there’s still plenty of talk concerning Southwest Texas’ season.

The No. 16 seed Bobcats (18-13) earned the school’s second berth into the NCAA Tournament — the first since 1997 — and will meet top-seeded and third-ranked LSU (27-3) in the first round of Saturday’s West Regional in Eugene, Ore.

Tip-off is set for 10:36 p.m. CST at Oregon’s McArthur Court and will be televised by ESPN2 (Cable Ch. 36) and broadcast by WJNH (107.3-FM).

“It was exciting to be involved as a team in the selection show,” said Fox, in her sixth season at Southwest Texas. “A lot of the credit goes to the players and my staff. I think the kids were hoping to go away far to play and I think they’re excited about going to Oregon.”

Southwest Texas was about as close to the NCAA Tournament as the San Marcos-based school is to Eugene after eight games.

The Bobcats were 1-7, including a 62-point loss to Texas and a 51-point lashing at the hands of LSU. They split their first four conference games and stood at 3-9 in early January.

“We had to put our preseason behind us,” Fox said. “We were still vying for a spot to get a conference tournament berth at that point.”

Southwest Texas responded with an 8-4 stretch over its next 12 games — dropping a 63-56 road game against Texas-San Antonio on Feb. 22.

That turned out to be the Lady Bobcats’ final setback of the season.

They’ve reeled off seven consecutive wins, a series of victories that included wins over Texas-Arlington and Stephen F. Austin to help solidify the fourth seed for the SLC Tournament.

“We had an opportunity to make a run, but we had to take it one game at a time,” Fox said. “That’s kind of when things started to come together.

“The kids really bought into it and started playing better,” Fox said. “We started playing more physical, playing better defense which created some offensive opportunities for us.”

Then came the league’s postseason tournament, an odyssey of three games in four days in three cities.

Southwest Texas handled the assignment with confidence, opening at home with a second-straight win (79-52) over Texas- Arlington followed by a road win over No. 2 seed Stephen F. Austin (64-56) — only the LadyJacks’ second SLC tournament loss in 35 games.

That set the stage for the Lady Bobcats, who arrived home at 2:30 a.m. on Friday, to visit top-seeded Texas-San Antonio for a 3:30 p.m. game on Saturday.

Sophomore center Tori Talbert punctuated her tournament MVP award with 22 points and 11 rebounds, leading Southwest Texas to a 68-56 after being tied 50-50.

Talbert, who has 19 double-doubles to her credit this season, was also chosen the SLC’s player of the year.

“It was huge for our kids and our program,” Fox said. “After we had positioned ourselves for the conference tournament and got a home game, we started to talk about making another three-game run. That’s when we started talking about the NCAA Tournament.

“The kids have played pretty good basketball,” Fox said.

“From where we’ve started to now, we’ve overcome a lot of adversity and it’s only made us stronger as a team.”