Valdosta Daily Times

January 24, 2013

Lady Blazers, Blazers return home tonight

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — After playing five of their first seven conference games to begin the season on the road, the Valdosta State basketball teams return home tonight, to begin a four-game home stand.

The Lady Blazers will host Christian Brothers at 6 p.m., with the men’s game following at 8 p.m. tonight from VSU’s P.E. Complex.

The games mark the first home games for either Valdosta State team since Jan. 5, when they both hosted Shorter.

Since the last home games, both teams went 1-2 on their longest-road trip of the season.

Tonight, both teams are happy to be back home in the friendly confines of The Complex.

“It is nice to be back home,” Valdosta State men’s coach Mike Helfer said. “It is nice to play in front of our own fans, but I don’t think that really guarantees you anything. It does make you more comfortable, but you still have to play 40 minutes.”

During the road trip, both teams faced plenty of adversity. The Lady Blazers were routed in the second half of their games at West Georgia and West Alabama; they were outscored by a combined 75-39 in the second half of the two games.

Then last weekend, the Lady Blazers edged out a 62-59 win over West Florida, ending the two-game losing streak, beating the winless Argonauts.  

“We played probably some of the most consistent-level of play on Saturday, even though it was a touch-and-go basketball game,” Lady Blazers head coach Kiley Hill said. “We responded very well, in some very adverse situations.”

With the win over West Florida, the Lady Blazers are now one win away from moving back to .500 in league play, which they can get tonight against the struggling Lady Bucs, who enter with the second-worst record in the league.  

“We talk about the process and what we have to do,” Hill said, when asked about the importance of tonight’s game. “We don’t talk about what other teams do. You have to do your job and your role. That is where the wins and losses will come from.”

On the men’s side, the Blazers lost to West Georgia before pulling out a come-from-behind win over West Alabama in overtime. Then, in a must-win scenario last weekend, the Blazers trailed by 21 points in the first half to West Florida, eventually climbing back into the game to lose 99-93.

“Give a lot of credit to West Florida,” Helfer said. “They made a lot of shots in the first half. They got us on our heels. But give credit to our guys in the second half for making a huge run and get it back within three points. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

One key to the Blazers’ comeback was the play of guard Patrick Diop, who finished with a game-high 38 points in the loss.

“I think (Diop) has played really well,” Helfer said. “But it has not been designed for one guy to separate themselves in the scoring column. We would rather do it by committee.”

Now as the Blazers move forward tonight and in the coming weeks, and as the conference tournament approaches in early March, Helfer said he still believes his team’s best basketball is ahead.

“That is one thing about our team this year — they’re extremely competitive,” Helfer said. “They have a ‘never say die’ attitude. We have lost some very tough ball games, but our kids have not lost focus. I still think, hopefully, we will be playing our best basketball at the end of February. It is a learning process for this group and we still have a long way to go, a lot of basketball to play.”

Tonight’s games against Christian Brothers will be followed up against games against Delta State on Saturday. The Lady Blazers will play at 11:30 a.m. and the Blazers at 2 p.m. The games will air nationally on CBS College Sports Network as the Division II Games of the Week.

“It is a great honor that the NCAA chose our program to be exposed on national television,” Hill said. “I think that shows the level of consistency that we’ve had over the years. There is a respect-level across the board. Now, of course, Delta State is second to none. For us, to be on that same playing field, is a great honor.”

During tonight’s games, Valdosta State’s athletic department will honor the 2012 national championship football team. The first 5,000 fans in attendance will receive a free national championship poster, courtesy of Gander Mountain and Valdosta State athletics.