Lady Eagles set for their first test in Conference USA tourney

Despite losing its final game of the season, the Southern Miss women’s basketball team will begin its quest for a conference title today as the Lady Eagles play the University of Alabama-Birmingham in the 2015 Women’s Conference USA Tournament in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Southern Miss (20-9, 13-5) enters the tournament as the No. 3 seed against No. 6 UAB.

The Lady Blazers (18-12, 11-7) defeated 11th-seeded UTEP, 63-52 to earn a matchup with the Lady Eagles in the quarterfinals round of the conference tournament.

Although committing 23 turnovers, UAB managed to get the victory, shooting only 46 percent from field but 86 percent from the charity stripe. Janae Smith led the Lady Blazers in scoring with 24 points, followed by Chelsee Black with 17 and Miranda Burroughs with 12.

Rebounding played a critical role in the Lady Blazers victory, grabbing 47 to the Lady Miners 29. Out of their 47 total rebounds, 37 of them were defensive. Smith averages eight rebounds per game, ranking sixth in the conference and third in defensive rebounding.

Over the last eight games, UAB has out-rebounded or tied their opponents. As a team, the Lady Blazers rank first in scoring defense, rebounding defense and second in defensive rebounds.

If the Lady Eagles plan to move on to the semifinals of the tournament, winning the battle on the boards will be important. Southern Miss ranks eighth in scoring defense, fifth in rebounding defense and defensive rebounds.

Tamara Jones leads the Lady Eagles in scoring and rebounding, averaging 16 points per game and seven rebounds. Jerontay Clemons serves as the team’s second leading scorer and rebounder, recording 13 points and six rebounds per game.

Other key contributors on the glass include Voche` Martin and Kierra Jordan. Jordan, who averages eight points and five rebounds per game, only grabbed two rebounds in the Lady Eagles season finale against La. Tech.

Southern Miss will need to find a way to incorporate her more into the game, especially in terms of rebounding the basketball to take some of the load off of Jones and Clemons, players who will be asked to contribute a lot on offense.

Offensively, the two teams are very close statistically except Southern Miss averages nearly seven more points a game than UAB. The Lady Eagles average 68 points per game, rank second in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage.

The Lady Blazers rank first in free-throw percentage, shooting 75 percent from the free throw line, second in three-point field goal percentage and 11th in scoring offense, averaging 61 points per game.

Smith leads UAB in scoring, averaging 19 points per game, followed by Chelsee Black with 13 and Mirranda Burroughs with eight.

Although Smith is the leading scorer, the Lady Eagles must keep a close eye on Burroughs, who serves as a threat from beyond the arc. Burroughs’ has hit two or more three-pointers in seven consecutive games and has recorded 72 three-point field goals, the most in a single season since 2010-11 and fifth-most in UAB history.

Thus, the Lady Eagles must limit Burroughs’ opportunity for three-point field goals, make the shot selection difficult for Smith and Black on offense, crash the boards on both sides of the ball and move the ball around for effective ways to score offensively in Jones, Clemons, Jordan and Brooke Rhodes, who can bring a burst of offense at any point during a game.

During the regular season, the two teams played each other twice, splitting the series 1-1. The Lady Eagles lost on the road 62-49 but won at home 44-39. In the loss, Southern Miss shot 36 percent from the field and 18 percent from beyond the arc.

However, in game where the team struggled to score, Jordan led the team in rebounding with six rebounds, a key factor that will be closely watched throughout the game.

With the game played on the Lady Blazers home court and a site where Southern Miss did not shoot well, it is key the Lady Eagles come out strong and remain consistent in their level of play for two entire periods.

If the Lady Eagles win against UAB, they will play the winner of the matchup between second-seeded Middle Tennessee and seventh-seeded Louisiana Tech Friday at 10 a.m.

Tipoff is set for today at 11 a.m. in Bartow Arena.