No. 7 Abilene Christian Wildcats (15-13, 9-9 SLC)The defending regular season champion team qualified for the Southland tournament in its first season as a postseason-eligible Division I team. Though the Wildcats did not recreate their title-winning ways from 2017, they still possess one of the league’s best scorers in second-team all-conference guard Breanna Wright. The sophomore ranks seventh in conference contests with 15.1 points per game and third with 4.6 assists per game. She is also tied for first with an average of 38.4 minutes played per game. The Wildcats face off against the No. 6 Privateers, a team which they have not met since their conference opener on Dec. 28 and defeated 80-70. No. 3 Central Arkansas and No. 4 Nicholls earned byes to the second round while No. 1 Lamar and No. 2 Stephen F. Austin secured double byes to the semifinals. The tournament gets underway Thursday at 11 a.m. CT with the opening game between No. 8 McNeese and No. 5 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, followed by No. 7 Abilene Christian vs. No. 6 New Orleans. No. 5 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders (18-11, 11-7 SLC)The Islanders enter the tournament as the No. 5 seed again and aim to recreate their impressive run from 2017. Last year Corpus Christi opened with a win against No. 8 Northwestern State before upending No. 4 New Orleans in the second round to land in the semifinals. The team is led by second team all-conference guard Brittany Mbamalu, who ranks fourth in league play in made three-pointers (42) while averaging 2.3 per game. A familiar matchup awaits the Islanders in the first round as they face No. 8 McNeese, a team which defeated them 70-74 less than a week ago on Feb. 28. No. 2 Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks (24-5, 16-2 SLC)SFA secured the No. 2 seed and has sights set on a second consecutive tournament championship game appearance. The well-rounded Ladyjacks ranked second in scoring offense (70.2 points per game) and third in scoring defense (58.1 points per game) in conference games. The team is led by two-time all-conference and all-defensive selection pick Stevi Parker. The senior forward posted 11 double-doubles this season, has scored in double-figures in 20 games, and has notched double-digit rebounding efforts in 12 games. On the defensive end, Parker was second in the Southland Conference in defensive rebounds with 210, registered 11 multi-steal games and and took a team-high 30 charges. SFA holds a double bye and awaits the winner of No. 3 Central Arkansas and either No. 7 Abilene Christian or No. 6 New Orleans. No. 1 Lamar Cardinals (22-6, 17-1 SLC)The preseason-favored Cardinals lived up to the preseason hype, bulldozing their way to an outright conference title as they enter the tournament on a 14-game win streak. Lamar’s lone conference loss came on the road at Central Arkansas back on Jan. 6. LU is in search of its second conference tournament title in program history and its first since 2010. The team earned four selections to the 2018 all-conference teams, led by three-time Defensive Player of the Year Chastadie Barrs. The junior guard leads the conference and country in steals (186) and needs just six to break the single season Division I record. As a team, the Cardinals rank first in league play with 75.9 points per game and a +20.4 scoring margin, With a double-bye in Katy this week, the Cardinals will face the second-round winner between No. 4 Nicholls and either No. 8 McNeese or No. 6 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. No. 3 Central Arkansas Sugar Bears (21-8, 14-4 SLC)The No. 3 Sugar Bears aim to make it three straight tournament titles this year. While the team faltered midseason, losing three of five at one point through a late January stretch, it remained by far the stingiest defense in the conference and among the best in Division I (50.1 points allowed per game overall). The Sugar Bears earned three all-conference selections, with Taylor Baudoin and Kierra Jordan earning second team distinction while Kamry Orr was named to the third team. Sophomore Taylor Sells also earned a spot on the all-defensive list. UCA has a first-round bye and will face the winner of No. 7 Abilene Christian and No. 6 New Orleans on Friday at 1:30 p.m. Tournament HomepageKATY, Texas – The 2018 Southland Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament tips off Thursday at the Leonard E. Merrell Center in Katy, Texas. Lamar secured the outright regular season championship and top seed with a 17-1 league record. It is the Cardinals’ third title in history and first since 2014. No. 4 Nicholls Colonels (16-13, 11-7 SLC)Nicholls, home of the 2017-18 Southland Conference Player of the Year Cassidy Barrios, enters as the No. 4 seed. The junior was a true all-around player for the Colonels in the regular season as she ranked in the top 10 against league opponents in scoring, rebounding, assists, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, steals and blocks. She averaged 18.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists. She earned Southland Player of the Week a conference-best five times this season and recorded 15 overall double-doubles. Her well-rounded resume also landed her a spot on the All-Defensive Team. The Colonels enter the tournament on a four-game win streak, with their last loss coming to No. 3 Central Arkansas on Feb. 17. They face the winner between No. 8 McNeese and No. 5 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Friday at 11 a.m. No. 6 New Orleans Privateers (15-14, 11-7 SLC)The Privateers enter the tournament with the Southland’s most prolific scorer in three-time all-conference pick Randi Brown. The senior guard ranks first in league play with 22.2 points per game and is 10th in the nation with 22.1 per game overall. UNO won four of its last five games to end the regular season and will face No. 7 Abilene Christian in its first game of the tournament Thursday at 1:30 p.m. ACU came out on top in their lone meeting this season, winning 80-70 in their conference opener on Dec. 28. No. 8 McNeese Cowgirls (12-17, 8-10 SLC)McNeese earned its second straight tournament berth under second year head coach Kacie Cryer. Last season, the team earned the No. 6 seed and a first-round victory over Nicholls before bowing out to SFA in the next round. The Cowgirls dropped five of their last six heading into this week after a difficult final regular season stretch. Caitlyn Davis, an honorable mention on this year’s all-conference team, leads McNeese in scoring (12.4 points per game), three-point field goal percent (31.1), assists (5.8) and steals (1.8). She ranks second in league play for assists/turnover ratio, eighth in steals (34) and 10th in scoring (13.6 points per game). The Cowgirls face off against No. 5 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the opening game of tournament, Thursday at 11 a.m. The first two rounds and semifinal contests will stream on ESPN3, available on WatchESPN.com and ESPN apps. The championship will air live Sunday at noon on CBS Sports Network. The 2018 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship bracket will be announced Monday, March 12 on ESPN at 6 p.m. First- and second-round competition will be held on 16 non-predetermined campus sites.