Valdosta State's basketball teams reach the halfway point of the Gulf South East season today, facing opponents in a similar position.
Valdosta State plays West Florida this afternoon in a college basketball doubleheader at Pensacola, Fla. Unlike most doubleheaders, the men will play the first game at 3:30 p.m., with the women's game to follow (radio: 105.9 FM in Valdosta).
All four teams are in the chance for the regular season titles and a No. 1 seed for March's conference tournament in Tupelo, Miss.
The Blazers are in the best position, holding a 6-0 league record (17-1 overall). VSU, ranked No. 1 in the NCAA Division II's South Region and No. 6 nationally, has a two-game lead over West Florida, Montevallo and West Georgia (all at 4-2).
VSU already has home wins over the other two teams, albeit by a combined five points.
"If you're the chaser, it seems that you have an edge," said men's coach Jim Yarbrough. "I've told our guys that, as the chasee, they've got to have that same edge.
"A two-game lead is nothing. It can evaporate in a weekend. We know there will be adversity along the way. How we handle that adversity is important."
West Florida's men are 13-6, but are 8-2 since the calendar turned to 2003.
"They had a couple of transfers become eligible after exams, and both them are starting and had an impact," said Yarbrough. "He's gained some momentum, and except for a couple of situations are playing real well."
Senior forward Kendrick Johnson (6-foot-6) came from North Georgia College and sophomore Kashif Russell from Montevallo. They've combined to average 29 points a game
The Lady Blazers (15-3 overall) are in a third-place tie with Lincoln Memorial at 4-2, a game back of West Florida (14-4 overall) and West Alabama (13-5 overall).
"We're in great shape," said VSU head coach Kiley Hill. "It seems like everybody has counted us out. But we're in a four-team group in a battle for first.
"I'd rather be there than having to climb up the pack."
VSU's main point of concern is UWF's 6-foot sophomore Erin Vierling. She leads the Gulf South in scoring (19.2), double what she scored as a freshman. The conference has named her player of the week three times this season.
"West Florida has simply been able to score," Hill said. "They go as (Vierling) goes. And they get out and go."
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