By James Summerlin
An early season round-robin tournament with five top-10 teams is a rarity in college sports. Such an event can be described as a gauntlet that tests top teams not yet in their mid-season form.
On Nov. 18-20, the annual Jackson Rotary Classic did just that. Six teams ranked in the top-20 were pitted against each other at Fred Delay Gymnasium with each team playing three, non-conference games. Among the six-team pool were Union, Vanguard, Oklahoma Baptist, Bethel, Freed-Hardeman and Azusa Pacific.
A three-game series, such as this test, can expose a team and reveal many areas for improvement.
“It gives us an honest evaluation of where we are,” said Union Coach Mark Campbell. “We became a little deeper over the weekend as well, which is a big thing for us.”
Home court benefited for the Lady Bulldogs, but Campbell said he hopes the home-cooking was not the reason for the performance.
“It always makes a difference when you’re sleeping in your own bed,” Campbell said. “I hope it doesn’t make a difference in execution. I hope we are growing up kids whose circumstances don’t dictate how they execute.”
Union kicked off the event against the eighth-ranked Oklahoma Baptist Lady Bison. Union did not have Zeinab Chan, senior history major and TranSouth Preseason Player of the Year, on the floor for this game, but the Lady Bulldogs pulled out a victory.
Lavanda Ross, junior social work major, led the team on the glass with 10 total rebounds including eight on the offensive end. Senior political science major Kayla Hudson sank four 3-point shots and led the team in scoring with 16 points. Not far behind her in scoring was Hope Adams, junior sports medicine major, with 15.
What became the difference in the contest was Union outrebounding Oklahoma Baptist 44-27 and shutting OBU down in offensive rebounds, 22-7, keeping OBU from second-chance scoring opportunities. The dominance off the glass showed in the final score. Union won 76-62.
The rematch of last year’s NAIA championship game between Union and the second-ranked Azusa Pacific headlined the weekend’s matchups. This meeting of the two top-ranked teams became a low-scoring affair for both teams.
Union, which averages 38.5 percent from behind the arc, struggled in three-point shooting, only managing to shoot 4-of-23. Union still held Azusa to 50 points and the defending national champions won 61-50. Chan and Adams both had double-doubles in the game. Adams came down with 13 rebounds and put up 15 points. Chan grabbed 12 rebounds and notched 18 points.
Union ended Rotary Classic play against the fifth-ranked Vanguard. Union held the lead for the entire game, but did not start to run away with it until the middle of the first half.
After a night where they only hit four shots from three-point range, Union shot 14-of-25 from behind the arc. This led to an easy 95-61 victory. Six different Union players scored double digits. Ross led Union in scoring with 18 points.
“We gradually got better throughout the weekend,” Campbell said. “It culminated into a great game offensively on Saturday.”