Valdosta Daily Times

January 3, 2013

Lady Blazers looking to find identity, host Lady Chargers

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Valdosta State women’s basketball team is taking it one game at a time.

For head coach Kiley Hill and the Lady Blazers, that next game comes tonight when they host Gulf South Conference rival Alabama-Huntsville at the P.E. Complex.

“Right now, we have to be very solid with our ability to protect our home floor,” Hill said. “There are a lot of games left to play. We’d love to win the league but we want to be in the top three going into the conference tournament, and to have the chance to do that, you have to protect your home court advantage.”

The Lady Blazers and Lady Chargers will meet for the first time this season tonight at 6 p.m. It is the first conference game for either team since Dec. 1.

Valdosta State enters tonight’s contest with a 7-3 overall record, but an 0-2 conference record.

The Lady Blazers lost their conference opener to Union, 69-51, and dropped their next game to North Alabama, 62-54.

“For us, it feels like conference play,” Hill said. “When we played against Union and North Alabama, it didn’t feel like a conference game. We still had some many non-conference games still to play. The sense of urgency wasn’t there. Now for us, it is a standpoint where we are a little bit more focused and we are a little bit better of a team than we were back in November and early December.”

The Lady Chargers (5-7) enter tonight’s game riding a five-game losing streak, losing by an average of 10.8 points per game during that span.

Regardless of the losing streak, UAH still is a     dangerous basketball team with talented players, according to Hill.

“Alabama-Huntsville has struggled here of late, but they are still a very dangerous basketball team,” Hill said. “They’ve played some very good people. They have two first team all-conference players; Jasmine Hammon and Jordan Smith, those two kids are very, very  talented.”

Hammon leads Alabama-Huntsville in scoring this season, averaging 18.2 points per game, while Smith is averaging 15.8 points. Both players currently rank in the top five in the conference in scoring.

For the Lady Blazers, Hill said they are finally getting healthy and moving in the right direction, after starting the season with nearly half the team out with injuries.

As players continue to return from injury, Hill said the Lady Blazers are continuing to figure out their identity, as a team.

“We are still trying to figure out, as a team, what we want to hang our hat on,” Hill said. “As a coach, that isn’t a good thing. But we are further along to get to that point than we were a month ago. We are finally starting to get certain kids healthy, but we are having to play three, four of five kids 30 or 40 minutes. That grind of the season just wears on you.”

One player that won’t likely be returning for the Lady Blazers this season is senior point guard Maylissa Johnson. After tearing her ACL over the summer, Johnson has worked hard through rehab for a chance to return to the team. But Hill says she isn’t quite ready to return and the team is debating on using a redshirt to allow her the ability to play next season.

“May is back on the floor practicing, but we are possibly going to end up redshirting her,” Hill said. “We are so late into the season and I am not sure she is mentally ready coming off that ACL. We’ve had some discussions and you may see her, but I just don’t know.”

While Johnson is out, players like Brittney Nelson, Kourtnee Williams and Kamyia Smith have been clutch for the Lady Blazers.

Nelson and Johnson are each averaging over 14 points per game, while Smith leads the team in assists and steals.