Stephen F. Austin's historic postseason run came to an end on Saturday with the Ladyjacks falling to Illinois-Chicago in the championship game of the Women's Basketball Invitational by the final score of 73-64.
Porsha Roberts led the Ladyjacks with 21 points for her third straight game with 20 or more points. She shot 10-of-18 from the field. Three other Ladyjacks joined her in double digits as Tierany Henderson poured in 13 points, Kali Jerrell added 12 and Taylor Ross had 10 points.
By advancing to the title game of the WBI, SFA became the first Ladyjacks team in the program's history to win three games in a postseason tournament. They could not complete the historic run with another win to claim the Southland Conference's first postseason tournament victory.
"We respect the tradition of Ladyjack basketball, and we want to be the kind of program that adds to that heritage. I really feel like this team in particular has added to the heritage of the program," Head Coach Brandon Schneider said after the game.
SFA (23-13) trailed early in the first half and each team went on small spurts to claim the lead. UIC (26-9) built its lead up to nine points twice. Then, the Ladyjacks responded when they were down 27-18 with a quick 5-0 run to get back within striking distance then shut the Flames down for the final 4:16 of the half.
The Flames hit a basket with 4:16 to go in the first half and to extend the lead back to eight points up 31-23, but SFA switched its defense and took advantage of the mistakes by the Flames to go on a 10-0 run to close the half and take a 33-31 lead into the locker room.
In the first half, UIC dominated the glass by out-rebounding SFA 23-11. Ten offensive rebounds for the Flames resulted in 10 points for UIC. SFA only had three offensive boards in the opening period to add three points.
Turnovers made the difference in the first half as UIC committed 12 miscues leading to 19 SFA points. The Ladyjacks protected the ball well after some early turnovers, and UIC only had seven points off turnovers in the first 20 minutes of the contest.
In the second, UIC went on a 10-0 run to reclaim the lead and go up 50-44 with 8:30 left in the game. SFA was unable to overcome that deficit, reaching within three points twice and two points another time but could not tie it up or reclaim the lead.
Rachel Story led the Flames with 27 points, and Ruvanna Campbell had a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds. The Flames shot 51.7 percent in the second half to overcome the halftime deficit and get the win while SFA shot just 35.3 percent in the second stanza.
UIC out-rebounded SFA for the game 43-33 and scored 18 second chance points off 16 offensive boards. Five different players had at least five rebounds for the Flames.
This marks the second straight year a Southland Conference team has advanced to the championship game of the WBI with McNeese State losing to Detroit-Mercy last year by 11 points.
SFA graduates just two players off this year's team that shared the regular season Southland Conference title and advanced to the title game of the Southland Conference Tournament and the WBI. Six returning players have significant starting experience for the Ladyjacks, and a number of key players will be back for the 2014-15 season.
"I think you have to build on it. You obviously don't get complacent," Schneider said of looking toward next season. "At the end of every year, I think you evaluate your roster and you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your team and how new players can fit in. You've got to continue to grow and get better because the bottom line is we didn't achieve all of the things we set out to achieve this year and obviously we'll continue to have very high goals and expectations."