By Anthony Gagliano
VALDOSTA -- A few of the names have changed and the results aren't quite the same, yet the VSU men's basketball team still has one constant - a superior defense. A year ago, the Blazers went 25-4 with the best defense in all of college basketball, holding opponents to a NCAA-low 52.2 points per game.
Fast forward 12 games into the 2004-05 season and coach Jim Yarbrough's team is again among the best. VSU begins conference play tonight at 8 p.m. against Lincoln Memorial, allowing the second fewest points in Division II (55 points per game) and holding opponents to a 35.7 shooting percentage, No. 1 in the country.
Yet, the architect behind that defense couldn't have predicted such success at the start of the season.
"There's never a crystal ball in the coaches' catalog or we'd order them," Yarbrough said. "I think I expected a team that would show promise and I knew had talent. But, how far along we'd be by the time we got to January was really an unknown. I'm still not sure it's totally known, believe it or not. January comes a lot faster than you think."
This one finds the Blazers with as many losses (two) as they had during the entire 2003-04 regular season, with both coming in the past four games. They've also tumbled out of the top 25 rankings. So far, though, nothing's come as a surprise.
"I expected pretty much where we're at right now," senior point guard Jerrod Jones said. "We're still a young team, so we have to learn how to win."
With 10 wins already, VSU certainly has a taste for success. On the other hand, it's probably the two losses from which this year's club will take its direction, especially December's 15-point loss at Saint Leo. The Lions' 83 points are easily the most against VSU as none of the other 11 teams have even reached 70. The Blazers have played three road games and gone 1-2 this season.
"I think in my 4 1/2 seasons we've only been beaten by double digits about seven times in 120 contests," Yarbrough said. "It bothers me that we haven't gone on the road and had a little more success. But again, I think that's part of the process.
"It also goes back to the whole thing that you better hold serve at home because the games at home are as good as gold or more valuable than gold even."
VSU has a pair at The Complex in the next three days, and while 2-11 Lincoln Memorial shouldn't pose a problem tonight, arch-rival West Georgia, No. 12 in the country and tops in the region rankings, should be quite a contest on Monday.
"It kind of reflects back on last year's 13-1 March," Yarbrough said. "It was remarkable and maybe not appreciated by this coaching staff at the time. But, game in and game out, night in and night out, showing up and finding a way to win, in this conference in particular, is remarkable.
"Whether we can find that consistency each night or whether we need to be looking to peak several weeks from now, playing our best basketball down the road as we grow up, taking a few steps forward and a step back, that's probably more realistic."
The VSU women's basketball team's reality almost feels more like fiction. Riding a Gulf South Conference-best five-game winning streak into today's 5:50 p.m. opener with Lincoln Memorial, the Blazers have a 10-2 record, also tops in the conference. They're not only shooting a GSC-best 45.4 percent, but also holding opponents to 42.6 ppg and 32 percent shooting. Both numbers are the league's best.
The nation has taken notice, with the Blazers receiving six votes in this week's USA Today/ESPN/WBCA Divisin II Top 25 coaches' poll.
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