LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - It was a record-setting day for Bo Browder but a difficult game for his Xavier University of Louisiana women's basketball team.
The Gold Nuggets, ranked 11th in NAIA Division I, struggled against Philander Smith, the last-place team in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, before pulling away in the final three minutes for a 61-53 victory.
Xavier (20-4 overall, 8-2 GCAC) and Browder reached 20 victories for the 12th consecutive season, making Browder the Louisiana collegiate women's basketball record-holder. He previously shared the record with hall-of-famer Leon Barmore, who led Louisiana Tech to 11 consecutive 20-win seasons from 1991-2002. The Louisiana men's record-holder is Grambling's Fred Hobdy, whose teams posted 11 straight 20-win seasons from 1956-67.
"That's pretty amazing to break that record," Browder said. "We were just blessed and fortunate to get out of here with a win."
SiMon Franklin scored 22 points, and Carmen Holcombe had eight points and nine rebounds to help Xavier improve its win streak to a season-best eight games. But after Franklin's basket gave the Gold Nuggets a 17-8 advantage in the ninth minute, Philander Smith (11-15, 1-9) rallied to take a 29-28 halftime lead, then kept the pressure on Xavier throughout the second half.
The Lady Panthers led 33-30 with 16:39 remaining after Kanesha Merritt's basket. Then Xavier scored nine of the next 11 points, with Danielle Tucker making 1-of-2 free throws at 13:50 to put the Nuggets ahead to stay, 35-34. But the Lady Panthers never disappeared from Xavier's rear-view mirror, missing a 3-pointer which would have tied the score in the 32nd minute and a 2-pointer in the 36th minute which also would've produced a tie.
Four consecutive Jerricka Scott free throws at 3:23 -- two made after the second of two technical fouls on Xavier -- had Philander Smith within striking distance at 54-51. But Scott committed a turnover on the ensuing possession, and Tucker passed to Franklin for a basket and a 56-51 lead moments later. The Lady Panthers didn't score again until the final 39 seconds. Two late Franklin free throws and another by Talor Hixon clinched the record-setting victory.
"Records have never been about me," said Browder, whose XU teams reached 20 victories 13 times in his 14 seasons as head coach. "It's been about a continuing stream of talented young ladies into a first-class program I inherited from Janice Joseph. We've got great support from our administration -- (president) Dr. (Norman) Francis, our athletic director, Mr. (Dennis) Cousin -- and I've had my top assistant, Darrilyn Broussard, with me for all those 20-win seasons except my first. When you start with good people, great things can happen."
This is the 20th time in 21 seasons that the Xavier women won 20 or more games.
Scott led Philander Smith with 20 points -- she made 18-of-21 free throws, 12-of-15 in the second half -- and Merritt scored 16. But they combined for 13 of the Lady Panthers; 29 turnovers. Xavier, however, was nearly as careless, committing 28 turnovers, eight by Franklin.
The Gold Nuggets will play Fisk at 5:30 p.m. Monday in Nashville, Tenn. The next home game will be the regular-season finale, tipping off at 3 p.m. on Feb. 23 against Dillard in the Crosstown Classic at the Convocation Center.