Lions jockey for conference position

Senior forward Bilal Richardson gets pumped up with his teammates as the public address announcer called the starting lineups against Shorter Dec. 19. Richardson and the Lions are tied for second place in the Gulf South Conference standings after a 97-91 win over West Georgia Jan. 30.

While many college basketball fans look forward to March Madness, the month of February can be just as fun.

The Gulf South Conference standings are beginning to take shape as teams attempt to separate from the pack in their next seven conference games. The UNA men’s basketball team (13-8, 10-5 GSC) is coming off a 97-91 win over West Georgia Jan. 30.

At this point, it appears the Lions are in good shape, but they will not rest easy, said UNA head coach Bobby Champagne.

“There’s a small margin of error every night (in the GSC),” Champagne said. “There’s no team in this league that’s real dominant, and there’s also no team in this league that’s real weak.”

UNA is undefeated in home conference games so far, holding a 7-0 record. On the flipside, the Lions struggle on the road with a 3-5 record away from Flowers Hall.

Champagne said while winning at home is important in order to make the postseason tournament, the team that weathers the storm toward the end will be the most successful.

“You’ll be able to tell in the next seven games remaining, the teams who remain healthy and the teams who remain mentally and physically strong (will succeed),” he said. “Every single night is a 40-minute drain mentally and physically.”

The Lions face Shorter and Lee on the road before coming back to Flowers Hall for a four-game home stand. UNA ends the regular season on the road in a key game against Alabama-Huntsville.

With a lot of new faces joining the Lions in 2016, what the team has accomplished so far is exceptional, said freshman Dakota Holtzclaw.

“I think it’s really impressive in the sense that we’re a whole bunch of new guys with only two returners,” he said. “We’ve come together on the court and off the court.”

Holtzclaw said it is an exciting experience to be in the midst of a standings race for the first time in his career, but he does not plan to change his routine for the occasion.

“I just go and practice every game the same,” Holtzclaw said. “The next one is just as important as the last one. You don’t want to look too much into the future or in the past but just focus on the task at hand and get the job done.”

Beating a top GSC team like West Georgia last week was important for UNA, but the Lions consider every game paramount, said junior Da’Shaun Griffin.

“(The West Georgia game) is just as important as this game or that game, or any other game that comes,” Griffin said. “We have to take it one game at a time.”

Champagne said the key to victory is not necessarily taking matters one game at a time but rather each moment leading up to the games ahead.

“If you want to use that cliché, you can, but as long as the season’s in, it’s really one day at a time,” he said. “The struggle is to keep everyone focused. We all want to concentrate on the game, but it’s really practice that gets you prepared.”

The Lions begin the second half of their four-game conference road swing against Shorter Feb. 4 before traveling to Lee Feb. 6.