VALDOSTA -- For the first time in a month, the Valdosta State basketball teams tonight will use The Complex for more than a practice gym.
Valdosta State hosts West Georgia in a Gulf South Conference East Division doubleheader. It's the first of three Saturday games which will begin one-half hour earlier than usual. The women's game begins at 5:30 p.m., the men's at 7:30 p.m. (Radio: 105.9 FM)
"We're ready to be back home, to play in front of the home crowd," said VSU women's coach Kiley Hill. "We're hoping to keep our streak of playing well at home going."
After the long stretch of inactivity at The Complex, tonight's games are the first of four-straight GSC East games in Valdosta. And with many of the conference teams usually playing tougher at home, it's an advantage the VSU teams want to grab.
"To meet our expectations, we have to win our home games," Hill said. "We've got to take full advantage of the opportunity."
n When last we saw the Blazers at home:
VSU had a nine-game winning streak broken with a last-second, 49-48, loss to North Florida on Dec. 16.
"I'd hate to start 2004 with back-to-back home losses," said VSU men's coach Jim Yarbrough. "We don't have a cupcake coming in here to assure that. It's probably our biggest rival game of the year."
Since then, the Blazers (13-1) have won four-straight games, including back-to-back Gulf South East road wins at North Alabama and Alabama-Huntsville. They've risen to No. 12 in the national poll, and are the nation's No. 1 team in scoring defense (48.9 points).
"We got off to a great start with two road wins," Yarbrough said. "Now we have to continue forward, no matter the outcome of Saturday's game."
Now comes West Georgia (11-3), which was the other Gulf South East team to win its first two games. The Braves also have a five-game winning streak over VSU, stretching back since the January 2002 game in Valdosta.
"We've played a lot of games with a lot riding on them, and those games haven't gone our way," Yarbrough said.
Among the losses were in the 2002 Gulf South final, the 2002 South Region final and the 2003 regular-season finale which knocked VSU out of the Gulf South tournament.
"You can't dismiss there is a heightened awareness about this game," Yarbrough said. "West Georgia is playing like more of a cohesive group. They have a lot of weapons."
n When last we saw the Lady Blazers at home:
VSU beat Georgia Southwestern State, 72-46, in its Gulf South East warmup on Jan. 5. It was the Lady Blazers' lone home game in its last six games, since a 69-43 win over Southern Tech on Dec. 15.
Since the Southern Tech game, VSU (12-2) had a 10-game win streak snapped, flirted with the national Top 25 and split its opening Gulf South East road trip. The Lady Blazers are ranked No. 2 nationally in scoring defense (49.6 points).
In the Tech game, junior center Courtney Parker severely injured an ankle. She may see her first minutes since that game tonight, Hill said.
West Georgia is 3-10, after starting the season 0-8.
n West Florida and West Alabama opened the season with back-to-back GSC East wins.
Lincoln Memorial is at West Florida today, then travels to Valdosta for games Monday night. The next weekend, VSU hosts West Alabama (part of Athletic Hall of Fame weekend) and Montevallo.
From there, VSU plays just three of its last eight games at home -- two during Valentine's Day weekend, the last on Feb. 28 at part of a six-game day which includes the high school Class A South Sectionals.
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