SAN ANTONIO, Texas – At the beginning of February, the Our Lady of the Lake women's basketball team was firing on all cylinders. Coming off the heels of a 105-82 drubbing of Huston-Tillotson on Feb. 2, the Saints were ranked 15th in the NAIA, sat at 13-0 in the Red River Athletic Conference -- 20-4 overall -- and looked primed to finish the season unbeaten in conference play.
Then OLLU hit a bump in the road.
Within a span of three days, the Saints dropped a pair of games to Louisiana State University-Alexandria (89-87) and Louisiana State University-Shreveport (79-76) by a combined 5 points. It was a much-needed shock to the system.
"We weren't used to close-game situations and we weren't at home, so that was difficult to deal with," said junior guard Jamia Miller. "It teaches us that we have so much to work on. We can't be complacent. We have to just keep working and getting better."
"We've had a lot of talks about it," junior guard Kasey Saldana explained. "Mentally we're all there. After the two losses, we were shaken up a bit and coach had to bring us back together. But we caught a break and now we're back at the top."
After absorbing those losses, the Saints rebounded and won their final three games in convincing fashion. The combined margin of victory in those three contests? A whopping 134-point differential. In their season finale, OLLU dominated Jarvis Christian College 107-49, adding an exclamation point to another regular-season conference championship. It's where the team expected to be, even with a new wave of young talent on the roster.
"Our standards are a little different," explained head coach Christopher Minner. "When we lost to LSU there, they had water thrown on their coach and they all celebrated like they won the championship. I asked my girls, 'Who do we throw water on when we win?' The answer is no one. We're the team that everybody tries to beat. We embrace that pressure."
"It feels great being on a team with high expectations," Miller said. "We expect to win every time we take the court. We all want to win this conference tournament and put the naysayers to rest."
Part of that success comes from the Saints' bond on and off the court.
"This is the team that has been the closest," Saldana said. "We have really great chemistry off the court. There's never a weekend where we're not doing anything together. We're all really close."
It's showing on the stat sheet. The Saints lead the nation in total scoring offense and are currently ranked in the top 10 in 10 statistical categories.
"We're a little bit deeper, a little more experienced," Minner said. "I think we've got more shooters and scorers. We've got four or five people that can shoot the three so we're a little bit harder to defend."
"Everyone can score and everyone literally contributes," said junior guard Lena Wilson. "We won't rely on one person to get the job done. We can all do it."
Now, this refocused OLLU team sets their collective sights on an even bigger goal -- winning the RRAC tournament and preparing for a deep run in the NAIA National Tournament.
"We just want to get the job done and always remember what the goal is," said Wilson. "We want a conference championship. We take each game step-by-step and possession-by-possession."
"I want to be that team that gets farther than the Sweet 16," Saldana explained. "I want to make it to the Elite Eight. I want to put a blue banner on our wall. I want it to be this year."
The Saints will open conference tournament play as the top seed Friday, March 1, at Texas A&M University - Texarkana.