Trailing by six points at halftime against three-win Saint Louis, University of Memphis head coach Katrina Merriweather recognized that the defense had to improve for the Tigers to pull out the victory.
When the final buzzer sounded, the scoreboard reflected that Merriweather got the second-half performance she wanted to see as the Tigers (7-5) overcame the Billikens 83-71 at Elma Roane Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon.
“Defensively, I think that we did a much better job in the second half on the defensive end of the floor,” Merriweather said. “We made their shots more difficult and did a much better job of closing out.”
According to the Saint Louis University website, a Billiken is a mythical good-luck figure that represents “things as they ought to be.” The Billikens (3-11) kept resembling a team that at least thought it could win as they built their half-time lead by two points during a see-saw third quarter that set up a Memphis surge in the fourth.
Down by eight, the Tigers held St. Louis to eight fourth-quarter points and road the hot-shooting of Madison Griggs (19 points) to score 28 of their own.
Since she took the floor as a freshman in 2019, Griggs, who led her Houston High School team to a 38-0 league record in three years, has been prone to knocking down big-time shots. With the Tigers in need in the final quarter, Griggs drilled three of her five long-distance baskets as she tied the women’s program record for three-pointers made in a career with 215.
Griggs connected on five of eleven three-pointers against the Billikens.
Memphis jumped to an early lead in the game fueled by two three-pointers from sophomore guard Makaiya Brooks of Springfield (Missouri) Central High School. Eight quick points in response by St. Louis trimmed the Memphis lead to one (19-18) at the end of the first quarter.
Camree Clegg (nine points) paced the Billikens to a 15-point lead in the second quarter as she converted on three shoots from deep. Memphis sprinted back and cut the lead to six at halftime.
Shelbee Brown, known as a defensive stalwart for the Tigers, showed why she has earned that recognition. In 16 minutes, Brown, who prepped at Whitehaven High School, collected four steals and was an impact player as the Tigers made their second-half surge. Memphis was +25 with Brown (four points, three assists) in the game.
“Her defense is amazing,” Merriweather said. “She can guard positions 1 to 5 and is a great asset to have on our team.”
Led by Griggs’ 19 points (one assist) , Memphis finished with three, double-digit scorers as Jamirah Shutes contributed 15 (two assists) and Emani Jefferson added 12 points (five assists).
The Billikens were led in scoring by Kyla McMakin (23 points), with Mia Nacastro tallying 13 points.
The Tigers now have wrapped up the 2022 portion of the regular season at Elma Roane Fieldhouse and will conclude the year with games on road against Xavier and Temple.