Dec. 11, 2011
NEW ORLEANS - Junior guard Olivia Grayson had a career high 29 points and senior center Brett Benzio posted her fourth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds as the Tulane University women's basketball team remained perfect at home with a 66-59 come-from-behind victory over Southern on Sunday afternoon at Fogelman Arena.
The Green Wave trailed by as many as 20 and did not take its first lead of the contest until freshman guard Jamie Kaplan drained a 3-pointer from the left wing with 3:42 left in regulation. Kaplan's trey was part of a 15-1 run and Tulane hit all five of its free-throw opportunities over the final 58 to keep the Jaguars at bay. With the win, Tulane claimed its second victory of the weekend to improve to 8-2 overall. Southern, meanwhile, fell to 1-4.
"It was a tale of two halves," Tulane head women's basketball coach Lisa Stockton said. "I was very disappointed in how we came out. I thought we came out without a lot of energy and not a lot of focus, and Southern came out ready to play. They were on fire, they shot well the whole game and they did some very good things. I give them a lot of credit on that.
"In the second half, it was a different team. We were much more intense. We had a lot more leadership in the second half. It's difficult to tell your team to press for 20 minutes, and that's what we had to do to get back in the game."
After tallying a 23.8 field goal percentage in the first half (5-of-21) and going into the locker room at halftime down 32-15, Tulane responded by hitting 15-of-35 shots (.429) - including a 4-of-7 performance from beyond the 3-point arc - to outscore the Jaguars 51-27 over the final 20 minutes of play.
Grayson tied a career high with four 3-pointers, and her offensive output surpassed her previous career mark of 22 at Rice on Feb. 25, 2010 during her freshman season. After scoring six points and turning the ball over six times in the first half, she had 23 points and four steals while committing just one turnover after the break. Grayson led the team with six steals overall and shared the lead in assists along with Kaplan and junior forward Janique Kautsky at two each.
Benzio, meanwhile, came up big down the stretch. Following Kaplan's go-ahead 3-pointer, Benzio made sure the lead held as she hit three layups, pulled down a pair of offensive rebounds and swatted a pair of shots over the final three-plus minutes.
"We depend on (Grayson) for a lot," Stockton said. "She had a lot of turnovers at the half. With a young team, the upperclassmen really have to set the tone and she did. I really believe she's one of the best players in our league and she has to be that every night and show it every night. That's really what I challenged her to do.
"Brett's always a presence on the boards. Defensively, she had a couple of blocks in there...Again, that's what you want your senior to do. I think Brett's game is the best it's been since she's been at Tulane. She's scoring. She's rebounding. She's more vocal. I'm really happy with the way she's playing and she came through."
While the Green Wave were all smiles after the game, it wasn't that way early on as Southern scored the first nine points of the game and held a 32-12 advantage with 1:21 to go in the first half. Benzio sank 1-of-2 free throws with 37 seconds to play and hit a layup with three ticks remaining in the stanza to cut the deficit to 17 at halftime.
Following intermission, Tulane employed a full-court press and was able to turn defense into offense as the Green Wave forced 19 turnovers and converted the Jaguar mistakes into 23 points in the final frame.
Tulane scored 10 straight points to start the second half to trim Southern's lead to seven at 32-25. The Jaguars, however, responded with a 9-3 rally to claim a 13-point edge and later led by 14 when Kendra Coleman was fouled while making a layup and converted the free throw to make it 46-32 with 11:10 left on the clock.
With her team down 48-34 a minute and a half later, Grayson scored six straight points and Benzio followed with a layup to cut the deficit to six. Tulane and Southern traded blows over the next two-plus minutes, but Grayson kept momentum swinging in the Green Wave's favor with a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to make it a 53-52 ballgame with 3:58 to go.
Southern's Adrian Sanders hit 1-of-2 free throws the next time down the court to set up Kaplan's lead-changing trey. From there, Benzio had back-to-back layups to create some separation and a free throw by junior guard Tyria Snow made it 62-54 with 58 seconds remaining. The Jags got a Coleman 3-pointer to make it a five-point game but Kaplan and Snow sandwiched a pair of freebies each around a Laneisha Stephens jumper to account for the final score.
"We knew that we could pressure them because they don't really have that many ball handlers," Grayson said of Tulane's use of the press in the second half. "We had success with that last year against them, so we knew going into the game that we could press them. We were down 17 at the half but we had no choice but to press, get up there, get some steals and get some easy baskets."
Coleman led Southern with 24 points on the strength of a 4-of-5 showing from 3-point land, and Adrian Sanders was next for the Jaguars with 12. Lechell Rush and Jamie Floyd shared team-high rebounding honors with six apiece, Jasmine Jefferson paced the squad with four steals and Sanders had a club-best three assists.
The Green Wave will take a break for exam week and return to action on Thursday, Dec. 22, when Tulane travels to Cajun Country to take on Louisiana-Lafayette at 2 p.m. at Earl K. Long Gym. From there, the Wave will close out fall play on Dec. 28-29 when they host Central Michigan, College of Charleston and Hampton in the Tulane/DoubleTree Classic.
For tickets to those games and future Green Wave home events, contact the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office either in person, over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com. The Ticket Office located on the first floor of the James W. Wilson, Jr. Center on Ben Weiner Drive, is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.