Lady Jackets face Louisiana College at 7:30 p.m. in quarterfinals action

The Howard Payne Lady Jackets are no strangers to hosting the American Southwest Conference women’s basketball championship tournament, but the week leading up to the event has been like none they’ve ever experienced.

On Monday, Howard Payne head coach Meia Daniels-Netter gave birth to her first child — a son, Tristan — and was released from the hospital Wednesday. Daniels-Netter, who missed the West Division champion Lady Jackets’ season finale at Sul Ross this past Saturday, an 81-75 loss, will be back on the bench for Howard Payne (15-10, 12-4) in Thursday's 7:30 p.m. tournament opener against East No. 4 seed Louisiana College (8-15, 7-9).

“It’s been a big week with having the baby on Monday, but I’m going to pop in on them and be at the game,” Daniels-Netter said. “Hopefully we can pick our intensity back up and get through Thursday and move on through the rest of the weekend.”

Despite hosting the ASC tournament, the Lady Jackets head into the postseason on a mini-slump, having dropped their last two contests to Mary Hardin-Baylor, 79-75, in overtime, and Sul Ross. The Lady Jackets haven’t won a game since clinching tournament hosting rights at Concordia, 82-65, on Feb. 9.

“I put a little of the blame on myself because I haven’t been around and they aren’t as intense when I’m not around,” Daniels-Netter said. “I wasn’t supposed to go to the Concordia game but I did because I knew how big it was. Then I felt we took a day off when we played Mary Hardin-Baylor. I didn’t go to Sul Ross and I think it was a shock to them having to play a game without me. That was big because it made them realize how much they need each other and how much they have to stick together and play for each other. They said they wanted to play for me because of the sacrifices I’ve been making for them, and right now we’re trying to be one big family and go win a championship.”

The Lady Jackets advanced to the ASC tournament final last season before eventually falling to UT-Tyler, which has served as the driving force behind the 2016-17 campaign.

“Every year they’ve gotten further and last year to have a lead most of the game and to lose it at the end, that has driven them most of the season,” Daniels-Netter said. “To finally beat UT-Tyler earlier this year after some close games, that let them know who they are and if they keep up the intensity and do their job, they can come out on top. But we have to make sure we play defense throughout the whole tournament. If we do, we’ll have a good shot at winning it.”

Howard Payne, however, allowed an average 80 points per game in its last two outings, 12 points more than it surrenders on average for the season.

“The biggest thing for us is we have to get our intensity back defensively, get back to forcing 25 turnovers a game like we have been,” Daniels-Netter said. “We also have to make free throws and we’ve been struggling with that. But if we do those two things we should be able to take care of business.”

Playing at home, where the Lady Jackets are 8-2 this season, should provide an additional spark for Howard Payne — which is seeking a record-tying sixth ASC championship and first since 2011. The Lady Jackets, who last hosted the ASC tournament in 2013, are making their 15th appearance and own the most wins (22) and best winning percentage (.710) in tournament history.

“I told them this is going to be one of the best times of their career,” said Daniels-Netter, who played before NCAA Division III record crowds of 4,000-plus in her HPU playing days. “To be able to host the tournament in Brownwood is big because when the fans come out, they come out in big groups. They jump on board and cheer, and we need to give them something to cheer about. I only have one girl on the team (Sarahi Castillo) that’s been in the tournament here. She knows what it feels like and she’s trying to get the rest of the team to understand.”

The tournament field may be as balanced as ever this season, making any of the eight teams capable of hoisting the championship trophy Saturday night.

“The tournament should be really competitive with some teams in some different slots this year,” Daniels-Netter said. “You can’t go back and say just because we won the West we’ll win the tournament, because everybody brings their best, especially against Howard Payne. The old season is over and a new season is starting. Just because you beat a team in the past doesn’t guarantee you will beat them in the tournament, and everybody else is thinking the same thing. There are no guarantees in this tournament.”

Along with the HPU-Louisiana College contest, games Thursday include West No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor (17-8, 10-6) vs. East No. 3 LeTourneau (13-12, 10-6) at noon, East No. 1 UT-Dallas (22-3, 15-1) vs. West No. 4 Sul Ross (10-15) at 2:30 p.m. and East No. 2 UT-Tyler (19-6, 11-5) vs. West No. 3 Concordia (16-9, 9-7) at 5 p.m.

The semifinals will be held at 5 and 7:30 p.m. Friday with the championship game at 6 p.m. Saturday. The tournament champion earns an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III national tournament.

———

ASC TOURNAMENT GLIMPSE

West No. 1 Howard Payne

(15-10, 12-4)

Howard Payne claimed its sixth West Division title and leads the ASC with the most tournament wins (22). The Lady Jackets’ 14 consecutive tournament appearances in the longest active streak and ranks second with five ASC crowns, winning their most recent title in 2011. Senior center Sarahi Castillo is one of only two players in the conference to rank in the top five in both scoring and rebounds. Castillo ranks second with 11 double-doubles, fourth in scoring (16.1) and second in rebounds (9.8). She also leads the league in blocks (63) and ranks second in field goal percentage (.430). Graduate forward Micah Cisneroz ranks second in free throw percentage (.800), eighth in scoring (14.9) and sixth in field goal percentage (.407). Sophomore guard Valerie Matlock is ranked fifth in Division III in steals (99) and ranks fourth in the ASC in assists (92).

West No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor

(17-8, 10-6)

Mary Hardin-Baylor makes its fifth consecutive tournament appearance and 13th overall. The Cru is 8-12 in the conference tournament, has three runner-up finishes and is one of four teams with more than 10 appearances in the ASC championship. Senior forward Jonelle Smith leads the UMHB offense with 12.3 points per game and ranks 14th in the ASC. Senior guard Kendra Wynn ranks sixth in rebounds (8.5) and set the UMHB single-season record in steals, ranking fourth (62) and ranks 17th in scoring (11.9). Junior Meghan Turner leads the conference in assists (108) and ranks third in assist-turnover ratio (2.0).

West No. 3 Concordia

(16-9, 9-7)

Concordia Texas makes its sixth consecutive tournament appearance and seventh overall. The Tornados are 3-5 in tournament play and won the ASC title in 2012. Junior guard Jaela Dejean is one of just three players in the conference to score more than 400 points on the year and ranks third in points per game (17.2). Dejean also ranks third in field goal percentage (.427), 11th in free throw percentage (.770) and is 13th in assists (2.8). Senior guard Emily Cullers ranks second in three-point field goals (68), fourth in three-point percentage (.366), fifth in steals (60) and eighth in blocks (29).

West No. 4 Sul Ross

(10-15, 7-9)

Sul Ross will compete its first tournament in team history. The Lobos improved their conference win total by six games, more than doubled their overall wins from last season and ended the year with a win over Howard Payne. Junior guard Katy Boren leads the SRSU offense and ranks 20th in the ASC in scoring (11.8). Sophomore forward Kenya Miles ranks ninth in rebounds (177), senior guard Ellen Avery ranks sixth in assists (79) and 25th in scoring (10.7). Freshman forward Lindsey Hearn i a threat behind the arc for the Lobos, ranked third in three-point percentage (.368) and three-point field goals (63).

East No. 1 UT Dallas

(22-3, 15-1)

UT Dallas enters the tournament as the East Division champion, claiming its second division title and first since 2009. UTD makes its 11th consecutive tournament appearance, has won two ASC championships (2013, 2015) and has a 9-8 tournament record. Senior guard Alyssa Crockett leads the Comets in scoring and ranks seventh in the ASC (15.0). Senior forward Micaela Gonzalez ranks 12th in scoring (12.5) and 13th in rebounds (6.7). Gonzalez also leads the conference in field goal percentage (.476) and ranks second in blocks (50),

East No. 2 UT Tyler

(19-6, 11-5)

The defending ASC champion, UT Tyler makes its fifth straight tournament appearance and seventh overall. The Patriots have a 9-4 tournament record and have won two of the last three conference crowns, and finished as the runner-up in 2015. Senior guard Michelle Obach ranks fifth in scoring (15.2), second in three-point percentage (.398), fourth in field goal percentage (.415) and free throw percentage (.792) and is fifth in assists (81). Senior forward D’Onna Matthews ranks fourth in blocks (39), 17th in rebounds (155) and 24th in scoring (10.8).

East No. 3 LeTourneau

(13-12, 10-6)

LeTourneau makes its fourth tournament appearance and won its first game in the ASC tournament last season. Senior guards Crystal Jones (22.2) and LaTanya Drakes (17.3) are the top scoring duo in the conference ranking first and second, respectively. Jones scoring average also ranks 11th in Division III. She leads the ASC in free throw percentage (.845), ranks second in steals (81) and is seventh in three-point percentage (.291) and field goal percentage (.403). Drakes holds two top 10 Division III stats — fourth in rebounds (14.3), ninth in double-doubles (18).

East No. 4 Louisiana College

(8-15, 7-9)

Louisiana College returns to the ASC tournament after a one-year absence. The Wildcats make their 10th tournament appearance after snapping a streak of eight consecutive trips to the ASC postseason event. LC has an 11-8 tournament record and is a three-time runner-up. Junior center Brooke Jones leads the team in scoring (12.5) and rebounds (7.0), both ranked in the top 15 in the ASC. Junior guard Kourtney McGhee ranks 11th in assists (60) and sophomore guard RyDeja McQuarn ranks eighth in steals (1.9).

———

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP TOURNAMENT

at The Brownwood Coliseum

Thursday, Feb. 23 - Saturday, Feb. 25

Game 1: (W2) Mary Hardin-Baylor vs. (E3) LeTourneau, Noon Thursday

Game 2: (E1) UT-Dallas vs. (W4) Sul Ross State, 2:30 p.m. Thursday

Game 3: (E2) UT-Tyler vs. (W3) Concordia Texas, 5 p.m. Thursday

Game 4: (W1) Howard Payne vs. (E4) Louisiana College, 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Game 5: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 5 p.m. Friday

Game 6: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 7:30 p.m. Friday

Game 7 (CHAMPIONSHIP): Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6, 6 p.m. Saturday