Opinion: Tournament appearance serves as testament to Stockton’s coaching

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Senior guard Danielle Blagg shoots the basketball in the Wave’s 57-47 loss against Mississippi State during the first round of the 2015 NCAA tournament March 20 in Durham, N.C. 

Mackenna Barker, Associate Sports Editor

Tulane women’s basketball (22-11, 11-7 American Athletic Conference) showed up ready to fight in its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010. As the No. 12 seed, the Wave trailed No. 5 seed Mississippi State (27-6, 11-5 SEC) by just five at halftime and even took a lead in the first minutes of the second half.

Tulane, however, was unable to overcome the Bulldogs, plummeting into a scoring drought that lasted nearly 10 minutes. Mississippi State wasted no time capitalizing on the lag and proceeded to go on a 20-2 run that would ultimately be the nail in the coffin of the Wave’s tournament run.

While it was a disappointing end for Tulane, the women’s basketball team had a more solid and consistent season than any fan or critic expected. The Wave held its own in its new, highly competitive conference and was carried by its depth and lock down defense. The Wave ranked No. 2 in the AAC in points allowed per game with an average of just 58.3 points.

Next season will bring a new look to the court with the loss of the graduating seniors. Senior guard Danielle Blagg was a primary contributor to Tulane’s offense with an average of 9.4 points per game, while senior guard Jamie Kaplan was the primary ball mover of the team with 4.7 assists per game. She also scored 6.9 points per game and helped pace Tulane’s offense. Senior forwards Tiffany Dale and Adesuwa Ebomwonyi controlled the boards for the team with 6.2 and 4.2 per game, respectively. The seniors combined to add 11.6 points per game.

It will be a tall task for the Wave to compensate for its losses next year but with head coach Lisa Stockton at the helm, who garnered win No. 500 this season, Tulane will manage. Sophomore guard Leslie Vorpahl continues to strengthen her presence on court, and freshman guard Kolby Morgan, who quickly emerged as a star and led the team in points per game at 12.2, will be one year older and even better.

Tulane has been building a program with consistent success under Stockton. In her 20 years of coaching, Stockton has led the Wave to 11 NCAA tournament appearances. There is no reason to think that the departure of critical seniors will prove to be too big of an obstacle for Stockton’s team to overcome. 

Despite the first round loss, the Wave’s NCAA tournament appearance is a huge accomplishment and a testament to Stockton’s leadership. Tulane has established itself as a force in the AAC in just its inaugural year in the conference. 

The Wave still has ways to go until it can competitively contend with No. 1-ranked Connecticut but Stockton is the perfect coach to help the team evolve from being “good” to “great.” Tulane has the makings of a women’s basketball powerhouse and with time, Stockton will lead the team to the top.