ISO Spotlight: Lamar WBB controls the Southland

Photo Courtesy Lamar Athletics

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There was a time in the 2010s when Lamar was a perennial contender in the Southland. From 2010 to 2019, the Cardinals won or tied for the Southland regular season title four times and made one NCAA Tournament appearance as well as four trips to the WNIT and two to the WBI.

Since Aqua Franklin took over the program for the 2019-20 season, times have been more lean. But the Cardinals won 20 games last season and finished third in the conference, setting the team up for this season's success.

Lamar sits at 12-1 in Southland play, giving the program a half-game lead over Southeastern Louisiana and a two-game lead over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Three of its final four games are against teams with a losing record in conference play. Win out, and the Cardinals lock down the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, giving Franklin her first regular season title with the program.

The Cardinals being in this position isn't a surprise. The team was picked third in the Southland preseason poll and received a pair of first-place votes. Akasha Davis was named All-Southland Preseason First Team, with Sabria Dean on the second team.

It makes sense, then, that that duo has been the key to Lamar's strong play. Davis leads the team with 14.4 points per game, with Dean right behind her at 14.3 per game. 

Davis is just an unstoppable force in the paint. She shoots 65.7 percent at the rim on the season, but that number is dragged down some by non-conference play. Against Southland opponents, she's at 68.5 percent, which includes a 72.7 percent mark at home. 48.0 percent of the team's points are scored in the paint per CBB Analytics, a number that ranks in the 82nd percentile. 

She's also one of the nation's best rebounders. Her 10.8 rebounds per game rank 11th in the country, with her 4.6 offensive boards per contest ranking fifth. It's a big part of why Lamar ranks in the 88th percentile in second-chance points per game, averaging 12.3 of them. 19.4 percent of their scoring is off second chances, which ranks in the 95th percentile.

This is something we've seen in the Southland before, particularly at A&M - Corpus Christi with Alecia Westbrook. Having a big who can use her size and strength to create additional opportunities is huge and provides a major edge. Of the four Southland teams with a winning conference record this season, three—Lamar, UIW, and TAMUCC—have an offensive rebounding rate above 32 percent. No other team in the conference is above 28.7 percent. You can really see the drop-off when you look at the percentiles, with Corpus being third in the conference and in the 63rd percentile nationally. Fourth in the conference in ORB percentage is Northwestern State, which is in just the 32nd percentile.

Of course, a dominant big alone won't put you at 12-1 in conference play. That's where Dean comes in.

The 5-foot-7 guard has struggled from the outside this season, shooting just 22.8 percent, but she makes up for it by being a lethal shooter inside the arc, hitting 50.3 percent of her 2-point attempts this season.


Dean's been really good at finding her spot this season. While analytics suggest that teams shouldn't rely too heavily on the mid-range game, you can kind of throw analytics out the window in a conference like the Southland, where it can be more important to let a player find and exploit a mismatch. Dean's great at getting into the mid-range and shooting off the dribble, as she's shooting 43.6 percent on mid-range twos this season, which ranks in the 84th percentile among guards.

That number is especially impressive when you consider how often she's taking these shots. Around 44 percent of Dean's attempts are mid-range twos, a mark that ranks in the 99th percentile. There aren't many players who can shoot that well on that kind of volume. Among all players to attempt five or more mid-range shots per game, Dean ranks third in field goal percentage on those shots, behind only Virginia Tech's Elizabeth Kitley and Villanova's Lucy Olsen.

Together, these two players comprise one of the best duos in the state. When the two share the floor, the Cardinals have a net rating of +11.3 in 543 minutes played, which is especially impressie since that counts non-conference games. If we narrow the parameters to just Southland games, it jumps to +19.1 in the 33 minutes they've played together. Lineups featuring just one of the two also have a net rating in double figures, but the minutes with neither have been a disaster, with a -12.4 net rating, albeit in just 40 minutes, so the sample size is definitely small.

Two other players on the team have a positive net rating in their minutes—Jacei Denley and NJ Weems. Denley's provided some outside shooting help, connecting on 31.1 percent of her looks from there, while Weems shoots 31.3 percent from three, though on a little over one fewer attempt per game. R'Mani Taylor has given the team steady minutes at the point, leading the team with 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game.

Those ancillary pieces help, but the key to this team ultimately winning the Southland and making its first NCAA Tournament appearance of the Franklin era lies in its star duo. Lamar needs the two on the court together as much as possible, because that's when great things happen for this Cardinals team.

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