Salma Bates: Lady Techsters steady as she goes

BUZZER BEATER: A steady presence, Salma Bates also has a knack for hitting big shots for the Lady Techsters.

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

RUSTON — The dependable, poised play of Louisiana Tech sophomore guard and Tulane transfer Salma Bates — they call her ‘Sal’ for short — has gone a long way in earning her Lady Techsters a spot against the Houston Cougars in tonight’s opening round of the 2022 Women’s National Invitation Tournament at 6 in the Thomas Assembly Center.

“Smart and cool,” teammate Silvia Nativi said of her point guard.

“Tough, but calm,” Assistant A.D. for Strategic Communications Kyle Kavanaugh said of Bates, a three-time state champ at John Curtis. “To me she’s the quintessential New Orleans-type player.”

“Heady. Unselfish. So steady,” assistant coach Scott Stoehr said. “Just what this team needed.”

Bates and the gang started the Conference USA season 0-4 before they began “to understand each other,” Bates said. “I felt we’d get it together. We basically had all first-year players, two freshmen in the starting lineup. …

“When we started practice, we got along a lot faster than I thought we would,” said Bates of a team that would weather some dramatic ups and downs. “I knew we had the potential to be good. I believed in all these girls.”

The Lady Techsters (22-10, 11-7) found their rhythm late and won eight of their last 10 regular season games to clinch the CUSA West Division title. Bates’ “calmness on the floor,” Stoehr said, and her “understanding of the personalities on the court” were big reasons for Tech’s strong finish and ability to rebound from tough losses to lesser teams earlier in the season.

“That,” Stoehr said, “and her knack for hitting big shots.”

Bates canned buckets at quarter buzzers in wins over North Texas, Sam Houston State and UAB, when she knocked down a pair of 3’s — one at the first-quarter horn — to help lift Tech to a 20-12 lead on the way to an 82-56 win that clinched the West.

The biggie buzzer beater was in late November against Boise State when she drained a three-pointer as time expired to give Tech a 60-57 win on her way to making the All-Tournament Team in the Rocky Mountain Hoops Classic.

Lost somewhere in the middle of all these heroics is the precise instant when Voice of the Lady Techsters Kyle Roberts, in an inspired moment of artistic vocal wizardly, blurted out, “Buzzer Beater Bates!”

It fits.

Then again, there have been moments subtler but just as big. Like in the CUSA semifinal when Tech outscored Middle Tennessee 34-15 in the fourth quarter to erase its biggest deficit of the season and win, 80-72. On her way to a 12-points, 4-assists night, it was Bates, with some big buckets late in the third quarter, who kept Tech within striking distance.

But while her flair for the dramatic is nice, it’s her focus on the ordinary that’s necessary.

“I need to be on the floor for us to be successful,” said the quick-to-smile Bates, who found a second home at Tech after two years at Tulane. “I know how to get us going; it’s my job to make them look good and set them up.”

Her solid 7.8-points-a-game average is third on the team behind shooting guard Keiunna Walker (19) and forward Anna Larr Roberson (15.3). Both made the league’s all-tournament team; Tech finished second, dropping the title game to East Division champ Charlotte, 68-63.

Tonight it’s Houston, 16-15 and 7-9 in the American Athletic Conference, a program playing in its fourth consecutive WNIT.

“Play our game and stay confident,” Bates said of the keys to beating the Cougars. “We need to use this game to get our momentum back from the Charlotte game.”

Photo courtesy LOUISIANA TECH