SLU Lady Lions to face Caitlin Clark and Iowa in NCAA Tournament Friday
HAMMOND, La. (WVUE) - The Southeastern Louisiana Lady Lions will make history in Hammond on Friday (March 17) when they travel to Iowa City to appear in the NCAA National Championship Tournament for the first time.
“We’re bringing big things to Hammond, America,” said Hailey Giaratano. “That’s something we’ve wanted to accomplish the whole time, so we knew we just had to work hard, win the tournament, and we’d be here.”
At 3 p.m. on Friday, the No. 15 seeded Lady Lions, who have the nation’s 13th-best scoring defense (according to NCAA stats), will have to try to slow down Caitlin Clark, one of the biggest stars in all of college basketball, when they face No. 2 seed Iowa in the Seattle Regional.
Clark is the nation’s second-leading scorer, averaging 27 ppg, and she’s shooting a blistering 46.9 percent from the field. She also leads the nation in assists per game, averaging 8.3.
The Lady Lions understand they’re going to be massive underdogs heading into Iowa this Friday, but the team says that’s exactly where they want to be because that’s when they’re most dangerous.
“We’ve had that target so we’re ready for it. We’re ready for both,” said Guzzardo. “We’re ready for both. We’ve been the underdogs, we’ve been the hunted, but we love to be the underdog because we know we can fight.”
SLU is led by former Ponchatoula High star Hailey Giaratano. The junior guard leads the team in scoring, averaging 12.4 ppg.
Most of the roster is made up of players from Southeast Louisiana. Two players are from Alabama and two more are from Mississippi.
Jen Pierre, a 5′5 true freshman, starts at point guard. Denham Springs native Dijone Flowers and Taylor Bell, from Shreveport, are major contributors from the bench.
A notable difference between Iowa and Southeastern is height. There are four players on the Hawkeyes’ roster that stand below six feet. For Southeastern, their roster features just three players that stand taller than six feet.
The University of Iowa enrolls 31,317 students in total. SLU enrolls 14,300 in total.
Two years ago, the Lady Lions hadn’t even had back-to-back winning seasons this century. Fast forward to this week, and Southeastern’s getting ready to play its first-ever NCAA tournament game. It’s a welcome sight for a program seeking to make a leap. Three years ago, SLU was supposed to play in its first postseason Southland Conference Tournament game in eight years. Minutes before tipping off, the game was canceled due to the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was born and raised in Hammond and this has been a dream come true,” said Lady Lions coach Ayla Guzzardo. “When we got the job here we wanted to make a difference and we wanted to make this campus, this program, this campus known. Seeing Southeastern Louisiana pop up on ESPN has been a dream come true. One thing we know is we’re going to make our community proud and we’re not going to go down without a fight.”
Should Southeastern somehow upset the Hawkeyes, the Lady Lions will face either No. 7 seed Florida State or 10th-seeded Georgia in Sunday’s second round.
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