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HBU women's hoop tournament dreams living on a prayer

Donna Finnie's HBU Huskies still cling to hopes of earning a berth in the Southland Conference women's basketball tournament March 13-16, but must win their final two games and hope for some help.
Donna Finnie's HBU Huskies still cling to hopes of earning a berth in the Southland Conference women's basketball tournament March 13-16, but must win their final two games and hope for some help.
Erik Williams /

The HBU Huskies women's basketball team would probably rather forget the last three Saturdays. That would be a good thing, too.

If their dreams of making the Southland Conference Tournament in their first season as members of the conference are to be realized, the HBU women need to eradicate the memories of a heartbreaking loss to Central Arkansas and back-to-back defeats at the hands of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi that have pushed them to the outside of the tournament bubble.

But, the fact that the Huskies still have a chance to earn their way into the tournament, which takes place March 12-16 at the Merrell Center in Katy, is a bit of good fortune or, as some on the southwest Houston campus might view it, an answer to prayer.

That is primarily thanks to a conference race that has been so full of parity that all 11 teams that are eligible to participate in the tournament still have at least a mathematical chance to work their ways into the eight-team field.

Currently, HBU (11-16 overall) is on the outside looking in, tied at 7-9 with Southeastern Louisiana in the ninth-place spot with two games to play. Those teams are a game behind the eighth-place Oral Roberts Lady Eagles, who crept ahead of them with two big home wins last week over Lamar and Sam Houston State.

Those wins, combined with the Huskies' recent losses, leave no room for error. The looming problem for HBU is that both Oral Roberts and Southeastern Louisiana own the tiebreakers over the Huskies, should they finish tied for eighth with either or both of them.

So, HBU needs two wins -- both at home, against Nicholls on Thursday and McNeese State on Saturday -- and two losses by ORU and at least one loss by SELa. They must finish ahead of those two teams to earn a tournament berth.

While it is a tall order, and the hopes are faint at best, there are reasons for optimists to think that it is not beyond the scope of plausibility for it to happen.

Both Oral Roberts and Southeastern finish their seasons on the road. And both those teams have struggled away from home.

The Lady Lions of SELa (8-20) are 3-12 on the road this season, with one of those victories coming against winless New Orleans (0-27). Another was a one-point double-overtime squeaker against the Huskies at Sharp Gym in January.

Southeastern is also struggling entering the final weekend of play. They've lost their last three games and six of their last eight. They finish at Sam Houston State (11-16, 6-10 SLC) and Lamar (16-11, 11-5).

Oral Roberts (9-17) has yet to win a road game all season long. In Southland play, the Lady Eagles have been a dominant 8-1 at the Mabee Center in Tulsa, but 0-7 away from it. ORU finishes with a pair of difficult opponents on their respective home floors: Stephen F Austin (17-11, 11-5) and Northwestern State (16-12, 9-7).

So the Huskies and their followers will become fans of SHSU, Lamar, SFA and Northwestern State this week.

But even if all those games turn out favorably for HBU, the outcomes are moot if the Huskies fail to take care of business against the Nicholls Lady Colonels and the McNeese State Cowgirls.

HBU already owns a big January 16 road win against Nicholls, 66-61. The Huskies shot 59 percent in the second half and outscored the Lady Colonels 38-24 to overcome a nine-point halftime deficit.

Two days later, they almost pulled out a win against the Cowgirls in Lake Charles. HBU tied that game 59-59 with less than two minutes to play before succumbing to McNeese, 66-62.

Nicholls is a team they know they can beat. McNeese is a team they feel they owe.

With two games to go, the chances of gaining a Southland Conference tourney berth are barely there. But they are there. With a hope, a prayer, a pair of wins for themselves and a handful of losses for a couple of other conference foes, the HBU Huskies women could still find themselves playing beyond this weekend.

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