Lady Lions ready for their first dance at NCAA Tournament


Hydee Holsapple

Senior guard Cierria Cunningham and company will need to step up immensely if they want to pull off a classic March Madness upset vs. No. 2-seeded Iowa. (Photo from Feb. 4, 2023 at the University Center vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi)

Southeastern women’s basketball has accomplished the ultimate goal of any team prior to each and every season: win conference and make the NCAA Tournament. 

A historic season has now reached uncharted waters for the Green and Gold. In their first appearance ever at the Big Dance, the Lady Lions draw a tough opponent in No. 2-seeded Iowa. 

The Hawkeyes are fresh off winning their second-straight Big Ten Conference Championship and possess the nation’s number one scoring offense, averaging a gaudy 87.5 points per game. 

Iowa has three double-digit scorers at their disposal, including Caitlyn Clark (27.0 ppg), Monika Czinano (17.3 ppg) and McKenna Warnock (11.0 ppg). 

Czinano and Warnock represent a formidable front court as both are legit WNBA prospects, while Clark is seeking to win the Wooden Award which is given annually to the best player in college basketball. 

The junior point guard out of West Des Moines, Iowa has the best odds to take home the award behind last year’s winner and consensus No. 1 projected pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft – Aliyah Boston (South Carolina).

Clark leads the Hawkeyes in points (27.0 ppg), rebounds (7.5 rpg), assists (8.4 apg) and blocks with 19 total on the season. 

Her points per game mark is good for third in the nation, while she leads the country in assists per game as well as total assists with a whopping 267 on the season. She also is the second most prolific three-point shooter in the country, averaging 3.4 made threes per game, draining 108 total for the year at a 37.9% clip.   

On a positive note from Southeastern’s point of view, the Lions fiercely battled No. 3 –seeded LSU in Baton Rouge back in November. 

SLU only lost that contest by eight points, 63-55, and was as close as four with 5:21 to play in the fourth quarter. Baton Rouge native Alexius Horne dropped a career-high 28 points in her return home to the state capitol.

Unfortunately for the Green and Gold, Horne will be unavailable for Friday’s NCAA Tournament game against Iowa. There is no denying this is a big blow to Southeastern. The junior guard injured her knee in the Lady Lions’ overtime victory over Texas A&M-Commerce in the semifinals of the Southland Conference Tournament. 

SLU beat Lamar for the Southland crown without Horne, but beating Iowa will be a tall order  without its second-leading scorer (12.0 ppg). 

In order to pull off the massive upset, Southeastern will need to lean on its top ranked Southland Conference defense. Not only do the Lady Lions rank first in the SLC in scoring defense, but they sit at 14th nationally, allowing just 54.5 points per game. 

Coach Guzzardo has referred to senior forward Natalie Kelly as “the best defensive big in the Southland” and she will be vital for SLU in trying to contain Czinano and Warnock. 

Sophomore guard Taylor Bell performed admirably during Southeastern’s Southland Conference Tournament Championship win over Lamar, scoring a career-high 22 points off the bench.

The Shreveport native hit all three of her three-point attempts; 17 of her 22 points were scored in the second half. 

The Green and Gold will need Bell and others to step up big if they want to beat the Hawkeyes.

Iowa is a 31 point favorite and will have the luxury of playing in front of their home fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. 

Tip-off is at 3 p.m. today on ESPN. 

Tune in to watch the Lady Lions chase more history. There will also be an official watch party at Walk-On’s today in Hammond for the game if you want to show your support.