BIRMINGHAM — North Alabama found out the hard way that a lot can change in one week.
Just seven days after pounding West Alabama on its home floor the Lions were no match for West Alabama in the semifinals of the Gulf South Conference Tournament on Saturday.
The Tigers took the fight to UNA early and never trailed in cruising to a 69-52 victory. West Alabama (14-14) will play Alabama-Huntsville in today’s championship game.
“They did to us what we’ve done to people all year,” coach Terry Fowler said. “Their physicality really bothered us. There was a stretch where I thought we had weathered the storm but they just kept going.”
UNA (20-10) was its own worst enemy, committing 19 turnovers, including 12 in the first half. The Lions struggled at the free-throw line, making just 10 of 17, while West Alabama was 18 of 21. The Tigers also held a 41-33 rebounding advantage, including a 13-6 edge on offensive boards.
“I don’t think it was a case of us being tight,” Fowler said. “West Alabama just really got up into us and we started turning the ball over.
“They forced us to shoot from the perimeter and we never got in good shooting range. Our offense became stagnant. We also didn’t rebound the basketball. If we do a better job rebounding it’s a different game.”
The early turnovers helped the Tigers grab the early lead and they extended it to 10 late in the first half. UNA got baskets from Joidon Jennings and Jennifer Towne to close the half and went into halftime trailing 31-25.
UNA got its offense going early in the second half as Nichelle Fillmore was able to get some easy baskets inside. A 3-pointer by Abby Andrews and a free throw by Sarah Bailey trimmed West Alabama’s lead to 44-41 with 12:06 to play.
But after an exchange of baskets the Lions went cold and again began committing turnovers. The Tigers outscored UNA 14-3 over the next six minutes to push the margin to 60-45 with 5:04 remaining.
“We’re used to coming from behind but today was different,” said senior guard Sarah Bailey. “Every time we scored they would answer. We tried to keep going to the next play but they just kept making shots.”
Brittany Weathers and Nikkia Jordan scored 17 points each for the Tigers, but Fowler said it was the supporting cast that was the difference for West Alabama.
“When we beat them last week we were able to crowd Weathers and Jordan,” he said. “But (Lanita) Futrell hit a couple of 3-pointers and (Tamya) hit some shots which really spread us out defensively. It was just their day today.”
Fillmore was UNA’s only double-digit scorer with 19 points.
The Lions now must wait till tonight to find out if they make the NCAA Regional. UNA was No. 5 in this week’s region poll and the top eight teams make the regional. The pairings will be announced today at 9 p.m. on NCAA.com.
“If I were on the committee I would say we’re in, but I’m not,” Fowler said. “If we hear our name called it will be jubilation and if not we’ll take it. We feel like the win we got Thursday should give us enough work to get in, but you never know.”
Fillmore admits today will be a long day as the Lions await word on whether their season will continue.
“It’s going to be tough, but I feel like we deserve to be in,” Fillmore said. “If we do get to go on we’ll come out and play our hearts out.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.