March 3, 2013
NEW ORLEANS - While the Green Wave's four-member senior class was honored with a pre-game ceremony, it was sophomores Danielle Blagg and Tiffany Dale who garnered the spotlight as the Tulane University women's basketball team rolled past Conference USA foe Southern Miss, 80-69, on Sunday in Devlin Fieldhouse.
The sophomore tandem combined for 43 points, including a career-best 22-point effort by Dale, to help Olivia Grayson, Janique Kautsky, Brittany McDonald and Tyria Snow celebrate Senior Day in style. The win was the fourth in a row for the Green Wave, who improved to 22-6 overall and 11-4 in league play. Southern Miss, meanwhile, fell to 13-15 on the year and 5-10 in C-USA action.
"I thought we had great energy from the whole team," Tulane head women's basketball coach Lisa Stockton said. "I liked our intensity. This was one of those things where I challenged my team not only to celebrate with the seniors but also for the underclassmen to feel like they had to get this one for the seniors. I thought they really stepped up."
Tulane held a 36-27 advantage at halftime and led by as many as 12 in the second half at 62-50 with 7:22 left to play. Southern Miss responded with a 10-0 run over the next 2:11 to cut the deficit to just a pair, but the Green Wave responded with 10 straight points of their own to put the game away.
Dale started the rally with a pair of free throws and added a layup between treys by both Kautsky and Blagg. Southern Miss cut the Tulane lead down to eight on a pair of Ance Celmina free throws with 1:31 on the clock and again at nine on a Tanecka Carey 3-pointer at the 16-second mark. Sophomore guard Jamie Kaplan closed out the scoring with two free throws to account for the final score.
"Southern Miss has some very explosive players and they can really get going," Stockton said. "I thought we did a nice job of being patient on offense and still taking good shots. We wanted shots in transition, which we got. The more they pressured us, we were able to get some layups which really took the pressure off of our defense. They got hot for a while there and we responded pretty well."
As a team, the Green Wave shot 48.4 percent from the field (31-of-64), including a .548 clip in the second half (17-of-31), while holding Southern Miss to a 39.7 field goal percentage (25-of-63). Tulane also held a 44-35 rebounding advantage and a 44-26 edge in points in the paint while using nine steals to spark 20 fast-break points and turning 14 offensive rebounds into 16 second-chance points.
Dale connected on 10-of-13 field goals, and Blagg was next with 21 points after draining 7-of-16 shots overall - including four 3-pointers - to go with three free throws. Grayson rounded out the Tulane players in double figures with 14 points and shared team-high rebounding honors with Blagg at eight apiece. Grayson also contributed six assists, two steals and a blocked shot. Kaplan led all players with seven assists, while Dale had seven rebounds and a team-best three steals.
"We trust each other," Grayson said. "We know that we can make plays down the stretch to pull out a win. It's really just the chemistry that we have on this team to know that we're going to be there for each other in the clutch."
Southern Miss scored the game's opening points on a Celmina layup, but that would be the lone lead of the day for the Golden Eagles as Tulane scored the next seven and never looked back. The Green Wave's first-have advantage swelled to as many as 14 with Blagg nailing a 3-pointer with 6:47 to go before the break to make it 30-16 and again with Dale converting a layup with 4:35 left before halftime to make it 34-20.
The Golden Eagles tallied seven of the final nine points during the opening stanza and opened the second half with a 7-0 run to make it a two-point contest at 36-34 less than four minutes into the frame. Dale snapped Southern Miss' streak with a layup at the 16:04 mark and Tulane got the lead back to double digits at 49-39 just under five minutes later. The two teams traded the next 26 points to set up Southern Miss' come-back attempt and Tulane's game-deciding rally.
"We kept our composure and made sure we stayed patient," Dale said. "We didn't want to make any mistakes on the defensive end and we just made sure we stuck to what our coaches told us to do."
Southern Miss' Jamierra Faulkner led all players with a game-high 26 points and was one of three Golden Eagle players to finish in double digits as Jerontay Clemons scored 13 and Carey added 12. Celmina paced USM with nine rebounds and three blocked shots, and Faulkner led her team with five assists and three steals.
Tulane will close out the regular-season on Friday, March 8, when the Green Wave travel to El Paso, Texas, to square off against defending C-USA regular-season and tournament champion UTEP at 8 p.m. in the Don Haskins Center. From there, Tulane will head to Tulsa, Okla., for the 2013 Conference USA Women's Basketball Championship, which will run from March 13-16.
Already armed with a first-round bye, the Green Wave will look to advance to the title game for the fourth-consecutive season and claim their first title since 2010. The winner of the C-USA Championship receives the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.