The Columbus State women’s basketball team is set host an NCAA Regional Tournament for just the second time in program history.
The Lady Cougars, under first-year Anita Howard, are ranked fourth in the latest NCAA Division II women’s basketball poll. They won the Peach Belt Conference championship Sunday, defeating the top seed in the Eastern Division in Lander, who defeated CSU last season in the PBC tournament.
“We’ve always had our goals set on competing for a national championship, but along the way, you have to make some pit stops,” Howard said. “We definitely wanted to win out the conference and get the No. 1 seed in the region, which we are.
“(The game) was surreal. We were down at the half, and I said, ‘We’ve come too far and don’t want to end it like this.’ We came out in the second half and played like we were supposed to play. For me to get it my first year, with six seniors who worked hard for it, and against a really competitive Lander team was a great feeling.”
The Lady Cougars were down by 11 at halftime of the PBC championship game, but Howard called out her senior leaders prior to the second half, and they responded.
“I challenged them, because Lander has a fairly young team,” Howard said. “I told them we were here before as seniors. Some of the newcomers weren’t able to win championships, so for everyone to come together and play team ball, we wanted to get the chemistry all year long. To get everything to gel that second half (against Lander) was a sight to see.”
Five Lady Cougars finished the game in double figures, led by Ashley Asouzu’s 16 points. Alexis Carter had 15, Gabby Williams had 14, Britteny Tatum scored 13, and Narshanda Malone scored 12 off the bench for Columbus State.
Now, CSU gets to root its team on to the quarterfinals in Columbus, Ohio, in the friendly confines of the Lumpkin Center.
“It’s good and it’s bad,” Howard said of the home court advantage in the regionals. “There’s a little pressure because you want to play your best basketball in front of your home crowd.
“We have different distractions at home; they’re still going to class, still going home, so it’s not a tournament feel just yet. We generally shoot better at home, and if we’re down and out, we have our fans to bring us up. It’s a 50-50 thing. You have that pressure to do so well, and then it’s a good thing because this is where we practice all year long and should play the best basketball.
“Hopefully we’ll come out there, shoot well in my gym, have a packed arena, and get to that championship game on Monday.”
The Lady Cougars face Anderson at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The winner will face the winner of Limestone and Lander at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, with that winner advancing to the regional championship on Monday for a berth in the national quarterfinals.
For Howard, it’s a good feeling to be able to carry on the success and the foundation former coach Jonathan Norton had laid for the program prior to her hire in the offseason.
“When I got hired, things had been rather successful before,” she said. “(CSU athetic director) Todd (Reeser) said we wanted to be a national powerhouse. We haven’t been past the second round of the NCAA tournament, so that’s what we’ve been tasked with and to compete for a national championship. I’m excited to carry the torch.”