With the top two teams in the Gulf South Conference coming to Carrollton over the next three days, the University of West Georgia men's basketball team will try to keep its postseason hopes alive and pull a pair of upsets.
The first order of business deals with red-hot Valdosta State blazing into The Coliseum today at 7:30 p.m. for a rivalry bout, while second-place West Florida pays a visit on Saturday at 4 p.m.
VSU (21-2, 14-1 GSC) is riding a 14-game winning streak into tonight's tilt and UWG head coach Michael Cooney noted how his squad will have to be at its best to slow down its rival.
"We've got to hope they miss. They didn't miss at their place. We've got to be really good on the offensive side with our possessions and make them count," Cooney said. "We've got to do as good a job as we possibly can defending them. They're very hard to defend. They spread you out and they all can shoot the 3. We've got to hope that they're going to miss. That's the bottom line."
The Wolves (11-11, 6-9) picked up a pair of wins on last week's GSC road trip over Delta State and Mississippi College, marking the first and second road victories of the year for UWG.
"We played well. I told the guys that turnovers are down, their shooting percentages are going up. They're just doing a lot of really good things right now," Cooney said. "We're getting good minutes out of our freshmen."
Since returning from Mississippi following Saturday's victory, the Wolves have dealt with two of their top players being out sick, while freshman Greg James is still out with an Achilles' strain. Cooney anticipates Paul Turner being good to go tonight after battling a cold, while Karlos Odum will be a game-time decision after being down with the flu this week.
"We're trying to rest them as much as we can and still keep them moving so they're ready to play Thursday, but that trip to Mississippi is just killer," Cooney said.
Following tonight's tussle with the Blazers, it's a quick turnaround for West Florida (20-3, 12-3) on Saturday afternoon. VSU and UWF are currently the only two teams in the league to have secured a berth in the GSC Tournament. West Georgia is one of four teams with nine losses in the conference, which puts them in a tie for the No. 8 and final tournament seed.
With five games remaining on the regular-season schedule, the Wolves are focused on making a late-season push to get into the GSC Tournament and see what happens from there. Of course, they have to get there first.
"The key is that we continue to grow as a team. It started with passing the ball to each other and they're starting to see they can be successful playing together," Cooney said. "We've just got to continue to grow as a team. Just with the way that we interact with each other, that we continue to grow with good huddles, good breaks, good teamwork, good recognition. I think that's really what was missing with this team. We're starting to see it, now we've got to grow it."