Humbled Lady Braves brace for SWAC tour

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

LORMAN &045; Alcorn’s Lady Braves have their own wounds to heal, and then there’s the matter of Tnonealyer Powers’ knee.

The senior is still nursing the knee that sidelined her back in January from a MCL strain. It still bothers her, sometimes swells and gives her enough pain on a daily basis to the point where she’s trying to block it out in order to just play her game.

Yet she’ll have to do it just like the Lady Braves will have to block out that recent road trip to Houston heading into the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament. They are the No. 1 seed and will face Texas Southern at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena.

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&uot;It hurts, and my trainer says it’s going to stay hurting until the season is over,&uot; said Powers, who is responsible for 5.8 rebounds and 8.9 points per game heading into the tournament. &uot;I’ll have to play through it. It’s an everyday thing, but I have to continue to go out there every day. You can’t do anything about it. You’ve got to play through it. You don’t have time to think about the pain.&uot;

Powers’ knee, turns out, could be a metaphor for a club that had its ego bruised last week on its trip to Texas to finish the regular season. The Lady Braves managed a split with a loss Thursday at Prairie View and an overtime win Monday over Texas Southern to ultimately secure the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and hand veteran head coach Shirley Walker her 450th win.

The team doesn’t want to think about the pain of losing to Prairie View anymore, only its fourth loss to the Lady Panthers in the last 37 meetings of a series that’s included several blowout wins for Alcorn.

Prairie View won’t even be at the tournament this week after finishing in ninth place in the regular season.

&uot;We went to Prairie View, took a bed over there, found the comfortable mattress and went to sleep,&uot; Walker said. &uot;We don’t have any excuses. We just didn’t play. We had some distractions, but we tried to play through it. I looked up at the clock with about 7:50 to go in the game, and the game was over. We played very, very poorly.

&uot;It seems when we beat somebody by a huge margin, we have a tendency to relax &045; and that’s what I don’t like.&uot;

That’s the part that really made everyone following the Lady Braves’ season really scratch their head. The team that hammered No. 2 seed Alabama State by 20 points two weeks ago couldn’t get it together to beat a team that’s not in the conference tournament.

After that win people began talking about RPI ratings and possible seedings if the Lady Braves could run the table in Birmingham. Now that’s up in the air.

But for the record, the Lady Braves were No. 143 heading into the weekend sandwiched between Louisiana-Monroe and Wright State.

&uot;First of all, shots weren’t falling,&uot; center Candace Roberts said. &uot;Our intensity was not there. That was the biggest wake-up call I have ever seen. That game was really important. Going into the tournament, that game was preparing us for going into the tournament. It woke up everybody around the SWAC, too, that Alcorn is something to play with &045; which we’re not.&uot;

Yet give credit to the both clubs on the trip for hitting the Lady Braves where it hurt &045; with stellar guard play that gave them matchup problems. It was the same tactic Mississippi Valley State used in its win over the Lady Braves in Lorman &045; keep more guards on the floor and do whatever necessary to stop Alcorn’s inside game.

For the second straight season the Lady Braves are last in 3-pointers made and attempted, but their inside game has flourished. They are the top rebounding team in the conference by a team without a Crystal Kitt, and their 13.46 assists per game is best in the league.

&uot;Everybody has played us twice,&uot; Walker said. &uot;Take Alabama A&M, Mississippi Valley, Texas Southern and Prairie View &045; they’re all strong in guard play. We try to match up with them, and a lot of times we can’t with the personnel we have. Powers does a good job, and Candace has gotten better. We’re basically an inside game, and our big people are not scoring quite enough.&uot;

Texas Southern gave Alcorn problems on the perimeter, but the Lady Braves prevailed in overtime to get the win. The Lady Braves caught fire that game with LaToya Johnson coming up with 24 points and Powers tossing in 18.

Against Prairie View Johnson and point guard Shikhia Sims nailed just four of 22 shots, while PV guards Ciara Sanders and Karlanda Butler combined for 32 points.

&uot;Their guards were out there, really hustling and getting after it,&uot; Powers said. &uot;That loss affected us pretty good. It showed us we have to come in here and work harder and stay focused. We had a lot of turnovers both games. Our guards really have to step up, and our big people have to step up. We are the No. 1 seed, and we have to play like we’re the No. 1 seed.&uot;

That may be Walker’s biggest fear of all heading into the tournament. Everybody’s shooting for the top dog in this type of situation, and she’s got the biggest one in the race.

Southern won the tournament last March as the No. 3 seed after the regular season champ won the previous four tournament titles.

&uot;It’s like I told them in the dressing room &045; Texas Southern is going to be a much better ball club &045; which they are,&uot; Walker said. &uot;If they can just wake up and realize the talent that we have and take care of business, that would take a lot of pressure off the players and the coaches. I’m afraid &045; bottom line.&uot;

Said Roberts: &uot;Why not play the best you can play against the No. 1 team? You know everybody is gunning for you. But every year everybody has been gunning for Alcorn. Now that you’re the No. 1 team, you have a standard to live up to.

&uot;Right now it’s time to play. That’s all I can say. It’s time to play.&uot;