After dropping its first two conference games of the season against UTEP, the Southern Miss Lady Eagles (2-3, 0-3 Conference USA) struggled to come back against UAB (6-3, 1-2 Conference USA), losing 85-63.
Southern Miss allowed UAB to score eleven three-pointers throughout the game, five of which came in the third quarter. Sophomore guard Margaret Whitley earned her sixth 20-point game of the season for UAB and made four three-pointers. Freshman guard Caitlynn Daniels led the Blazers in shooting, though, putting a career-high 21 points on the board, including three three-point shots.
“I tell you what, UAB can flat out shoot the basketball,” Head Coach Joye Lee-McNelis said. “They were really, really good that third quarter. I don’t even know the scoring[.] I just knew what it felt like standing on that sideline over there.”
While Southern Miss shot at a 29% accuracy rate in the first quarter, freshman guard Brikayla Gray picked up on the team’s struggles in what became a career performance. Gray scored half of the team’s fourteen points in the first quarter on two of four attempts and a pair of free throws. Despite Gray’s scoring, the Lady Eagles fell to a near double-digit deficit at the end of the quarter, down 23-14.
“She plays with heart and soul and she prays every night to get better,” Lee-McNelis said of Gray. “She’s vocal about that […] I think that says a whole lot about who she is as a young person. Hats off to her mom for raising her the way she has, and she is one of the ones, she and Emmy James are the ones that step up and talk in the locker room.
Gray finished the game with a career-high and team-high of 18 points on seven of thirteen shots. It was her third consecutive game with double-digit point totals.
Southern Miss flipped the switch in the second quarter to narrow UAB’s lead to only two points at halftime. The Lady Eagles shot at nearly 60% accuracy while holding the Blazers scoreless for over five minutes. Freshman center Melyia Grayson had a productive quarter, scoring eight points on a perfect four of four attempts. Junior guard Daishai Almond led the offense by dishing out five assists during the quarter.
Lee-McNelis attributes the team’s success in the second quarter to the absence of the Blazers’ center, junior Zakyia Weathersby. During the night, Weathersby recorded a triple-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds and served as a force on defense, blocking three of the Lady Eagles’ shots.
“On the run in the second quarter, we have to realize that Weathersby was on their bench and that’s their post player that we got into foul trouble,” Lee-McNelis said. “I’m going to be honest[:] I think our post players played intimidated with her. She totally took control. That’s a senior post player that played really well. That’s how we made the run, that’s the truth of the matter. We didn’t have to help anywhere, we were able to get out, we were able to guard the three-ball because we didn’t have to worry about Weathersby.”
The Blazers answered back during the third quarter with a dominant performance from the perimeter. UAB made five three-point shots in the period. Daniels made all three of her three-point attempts and scored a total of 11 points in the quarter.
“I think [the game] was defined in the third quarter,” Lee-McNelis said. “Coming out of halftime is when they took control of the game. I thought we played [and] came out very lackadaisical, very much asleep.”
Any comeback hopes were squashed as the Blazers continued to roll on in the fourth quarter. UAB extended its lead up to 22 points at the end of the fourth to seal the victory and hand the Lady Eagles its third consecutive loss.
Aside from Gray’s performance, Kelsey Jones and Grayson each added 12 points with efficient shooting from the field. Grayson had a team-high of six rebounds and recorded the team’s two blocks.
The Lady Eagles were without the services of key players against UAB, an issue that Lee-McNelis is eager to have fixed soon as the team continues conference play.
“We just can’t get Lauren Gross, Rose Warren and Kahia Warmsley back quick enough,” Lee-McNelis said.
However, Southern Miss has a quick turnaround. It faces UAB for the second time at Reed Green Coliseum on Saturday, Jan. 9 at 4 p.m.