SAN ANTONIO – Ever since UIW bumped up to Division I in 2013, the women’s basketball team has struggled to adapt to Southland Conference play. Over the past seven years, the Cardinals only won 23 conference games, averaging a little over three conference wins per season.
This year, UIW flipped the script.
Under first-year head coach Jeff Dow, the Cardinals battled their way through a difficult conference slate to finish with a 10-10 record -- 14-15 overall -- earning the program’s first-ever berth in the Southland Conference Tournament. The change in attitude and results all starts with the players.
“They have bought in," Dow said. “It wasn’t without a few bumps along the way. Going back to last summer when we first started working out in July, we worked our way through some things, but we persevered. They do a really good job of sharing the ball, being unselfish and playing good defense. They’re also a close-knit group, and obviously as a coach, that helps a ton. They get along well with each other, they support each other, and they’re happy for each others’ successes.”
“I think overall, it’s just our commitment to work with each other and our commitment to the coach and his philosophy," sophomore guard Macy Ray explained. "We’re not just working as individuals. We’re one big unit.”
Seven seniors have stepped up to power UIW to new heights, led by guard Imani Robinson who is the team’s leading scorer. Tuesday morning, Robinson was named First Team All-Conference, becoming the first Cardinal ever to receive the honor.
“I’m just excited that we made it," Robinson said. "We put UIW on the map. We’ve shown the culture here is changing, and the program is going to continue to build, so they should get used to seeing us at the tournament.”
UIW enters the tournament as the seventh seed and will play sixth-seeded Nicholls State on Thursday afternoon. The Cardinals defeated the Colonels in their only previous meeting on Jan. 2, 53-51. Robinson scored the game-winner that night with one second left on the clock. A lot has changed for both teams in the two months since that game, but UIW enters the opening round with plenty of confidence.
“I think we can play with anybody in our conference," Robinson said. "We’ve shown that this year, and they can’t count us out.”
“I’m just trying to keep it loose, keep it free and easy, and just let them play," Dow explained. "It doesn’t take much to rein them in and get them focused. We had a great practice today, and they’ve been locked-in in the film room. Just don’t over-analyze it. Go in and do what you’ve been doing all season long.”
“It’s all first steps," Ray said. "There’s just so much that we can come into this tournament and accomplish and take home for San Antonio. It’s exciting.”
Tip off between UIW and Nicholls State is set for 1:30 p.m. on Thursday in Katy.