OLLU nationally ranked basketball teams look to "protect the lake"

NAIA nationally ranked OLLU basketball teams face off against Louisiana teams

By Caroline Wright - Sports Producer

SAN ANTONIO - It’s time to protect the lake as both the men's and women's basketball teams at Our Lady of the Lake University go head-to-head against some of the nation's top teams. 

The OLLU women’s team is currently ranked No. 15 in the 2017-18 NAIA Division I women’s basketball coaches’ Top 25 Poll, and is No. 1 in offensive scoring overall with 1,629 points, averaging 85.737 points per game. 

The Saints have overcome multiple season-ending injuries that happened early on this season to dominate their conference. Head coach Christopher Minner admits his team's success was a little unpredictable.

“We actually had some new players get thrusted in the fire quicker than I thought and for us to be undefeated in conference and 15th in the nation is a little unexpected with how young and inexperienced some of the players we have are,” he said. 

After losing five veteran post players, Minner said he and many others thought this would be a rebuilding year for the team. But the team's been resilient, he said, and is looking to win another championship title.

With the motivation to win a sixth title, the women are working to beat two Louisiana opponents at home this week. On Friday, No. 3-ranked Louisiana State University-Shreveport will travel to San Antonio.

This game will determine which team will get their first conference loss as both OLLU and LSU-Shreveport are 7-0 in conference play heading into Friday's game.

The Saints are coming off a three-game win streak while the Pilots are looking to extend their current 12-game win streak.

Julia Rendon, a senior who’s played at OLLU all four years of her college career and is currently 41 points away from reaching 1,000 points with OLLU, said their games against the Pilots are always very close.

“I think it’s just going to be a good, competitive game in a fun environment,” she said.

Minner said his team isn’t afraid of the Louisiana opponents because they’ve been preparing for these upcoming games with their tough preseason schedule.

While being ranked is important to the team, they all agreed they don’t pour their focus into it.

“We’ve been ranked for five and a half years, or something like that. We’ve been No. 1, No. 7, No. 11 -- all over the map in terms of the top 25. It’s just an expectation for us. We’re just trying to win our sixth title which is more important to us," Minner said.

Saturday the women will take on LSU-Alexandria. Both Friday's and Saturdays games tip off at 5:30 P.M. in Macbee Gymnasium.

The men’s team is also off to a strong conference start as they’re currently ranked No. 23 in the NAIA Coaches top 25 poll. The Saints are 6-1 in conference and are also looking to beat strong Louisiana teams.

Junior shooting guard Courtney Julien said the team had a rocky start but as everybody gets to know the system better they’re improving everyday.

Coach Ryan Wall explained that the team added some new pieces during the Christmas break and are hoping to add to their defensive side of the game.

“Defensively, we’ve come a long way," he said. "Offensive is up and down. We just got to continue to get better.”

Much like the women’s team, the LSU-Shreveport mens team is ranked No. 3 in the nation with a 6-1 conference record. They’re coming off an eight-game win streak.

This is Julien’s first year at Our Lady of the Lake and he’s already been making a big imprint on the team as the leading scorer for the Saints and eighth in the nation, averaging 365/20.278.

“I don’t really think about it much," he said. "I just do what my teammates need me to do and I do what I can to help the team win. If my role is scoring then i’ll do that.”

The OLLU men are coming off a win against Paul Quinn College and are hoping to continue to improve their game to end their season playing in Kansas City and gain a national title.

 “It’s always good to be ranked but the Red River Conference has two ways of getting a bid and that's winning the league outright or winning the conference tournament, and that's an automatic bid to Kansas City and that's where we want to be," Wall said. 

Home games are important to the team -- and especially to San Antonio’s own PJ Escabar, who says it’s been great having the local support of his family, friends and fans.

“I think if we have enough energy and enough people coming out to support us then we’ll be fine,” Escabar said.

The men will be in action Friday and Saturday. Both games begin at 7:30 p.m. in Macbee Gymnasium. 

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