VALDOSTA -- The preliminaries are over.

With the calendar turning from December to January, the thoughts of Valdosta State's basketball teams fully turn to Gulf South Conference East Division play.

Work begins tonight at The Complex, with the Blazers and Lady Blazers hosting West Alabama. The women's game begins at 6 p.m., with the men's game to follow. The games will be broadcast on WVLD-AM (1450) in Valdosta.

"The season is broken up into parts," said VSU men's coach Jim Yarbrough. "We know now we're going to have to give a larger and more consistent effort. The intensity is going to have to be there every night. There are no more easy games built into this schedule."

Valdosta State has won seven straight, getting off to a 10-2 start and a No. 4 ranking in the South Region. The lone losses were to Division I teams.

One of the wins was the Gulf South East opener at North Alabama a month ago.

"Every game in the Gulf South is a war," Yarbrough said. "We can't get complacent. It's going to take a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get the job done."

West Alabama comes into town at 4-5 (0-1 in the GSC East), but well tested on the road. Eight of those nine games were away from Livingston.

And the Tigers may also be eager to get back on the court. Their last game was on Dec. 15, when they were blasted by Division I Western Kentucky, 103-40. Since then, VSU has played and won four games.

"They're trying to find themselves. They've had some good wins," Yarbrough said. "To get a quality win on the road could give them some momentum for the rest of the season."

The women's teams opened post-Christmas play in similar fashion -- two-game tournaments with GSC West teams.

VSU (7-5, 1-1) lost to South No. 1 Central Arkansas and South No. 6 Arkansas Tech last weekend in Pensacola. West Alabama (7-2, 1-0) split with two unranked teams, losing to Delta State and beating Southern Arkansas.

A Gulf South West school has won the conference championship every year since 1995. Delta State, which has won seven straight since an 0-2 start, has won all but one of those titles.

"We learned we can compete with the other side," said head coach Kiley Hill. "We learned we have to play hard every single night ... with good communication."

After opening Gulf South East play with two long road trips last month, Hill hopes the Lady Blazers can take advantage of a three-game homestand.

The first game is against West Alabama, a school Hill coached two years ago.

"They're not a big team, but they play hard and shoot the ball well," Hill said.

The homestand continues Tuesday when VSU hosts in-state rival West Georgia. VSU's women will play Mississippi University for Women at 2 p.m. on Jan. 12.



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