UNA basketball prepares for conference play

Senior guard Nathan Spehr plays defense against a Bryan College player Nov. 17. The Gulf South Conference schedule starts Dec. 4 for the UNA basketball teams as they host Valdosta State University.

Dec. 4 may be Dead Day on campus, but the UNA basketball teams hope Flowers Hall is very much alive when they hosts Valdosta State University to tipoff the conference schedule.

“I think Dr. Thornell should issue some kind of decree that everyone should take a break from studying to come watch the men and women face Valdosta,” men’s head coach Bobby Champagne said, jokingly. “I’m sure that would go over well with everybody.”

The Gulf South Conference schedule starts earlier than in previous years as this season includes two more conference games than last year. Last season each GSC team played 20 conference games, and this year each team will play 22 conference games.

The men’s team got an up-and-down start to the season and brings a (3-3) record into the Blazers matchup.

“We haven’t really done as well as I expected because of our lack of consistency,” Champagne said. “We’ve played well in spurts. We just have to try and get better at executing, playing harder and playing together.”

The Lions must put it together soon as the GSC looks to be tough once again, Champagne said.

“I don’t know if this is the best the league has been since I’ve been in it because I don’t know if there is a dominant team, but it’s as balanced as it’s ever been,” he said. “I don’t think there is a bad team in this league. It’s going to be a brutal 22-game schedule.”

Senior forward Calvin Dade says the lack of nonconference games is not a problem, but the team needs to practice harder this week for preparation.

“We’re still gelling and trying to get everybody on the same page,” he said. “It’s never too soon to start conference — we just need to execute our plays on offense. The GSC is always a good conference, so I know it’s going to be a tough year.”

Dade said a win at home against the Blazers would be big for the team’s momentum going forward.

“Our defense is struggling against three-point shooters but I think if we keep them off the glass, we’ll be OK,” he said.

The Lions rank last in the GSC in scoring defense by giving up 82.2 points per game.

“Our defense has been like everything else, sporadic,” Champagne said. “At times, we’re good at contesting shots and limiting them to one shot. Other times, we’re nonexsistent on that end.”

The women’s team comes off a dominating victory over Fisk University. The team went over the century mark for the second time this season as they won 107-39.

UNA (3-1) also boasts a 72-69 victory in an exhibition over Belmont University, a D-I opponent. The Lions have the No. 1 scoring offense in the GSC, averaging 89 points per game.

“Who knows if four games is enough to get ready for the GSC,” said women’s head coach Missy Tiber. “We’ve played some good teams though. I think we’ve played four very good games to lead up to conference play.”

The Lions also lead the conference in margin of victory by an average of 26.5 points per game.

The Blazers bring in a (4-2) record to Flowers Hall.

Tiber said VSU looks similar to last year’s team with seven returnees and the opposing coach continues to favor a slower pace style of play, unlike the Lions.

“We’re way more athletic than them,” she said. “My goal will be to force the tempo, and they will try to slow it down. If we can score 70 points, we will win.”

Senior guard Lauren Faris said Valdosta State has some big players in the post, which makes keeping them off the boards key.

“Rebounding and taking the right shots is the biggest focus,” she said. “We’ll have to get as much out of practice as we can this week.”

Faris’ health is key for the Lions heading into conference play, Tiber said.

She suffered a season-ending ACL injury against the University of West Georgia last season. The league’s coaches selected her to the preseason All-GSC team.

“Out of all the returning kids, she was the one I was most pleased with after the game,” Tiber said. “She looks like she’s moving around the best she has so far.”

Faris said physically she feels fine, but it is a mental battle on the court.

Women’s tipoff is 6 p.m., and the men’s is 8 p.m.