North Alabama finds itself in an unusual position today as the second half of the season begins.
While the first game of the new year normally signals the opening of Gulf South Conference play, that is not the case this year. The UNA men and women each enter tonight’s games at Christian Brothers with 2-0 conference records after beating West Florida and Valdosta State at home earlier in the season.
“The first two conference games were so long ago I don’t even remember them,” coach Bobby Champagne said. “It’s good to be 2-0, but Christian Brothers got a conference win on the road so they’re one up on everybody else.”
Christian Brothers (6-3, 1-0 GSC) is coming off a 66-48 home loss to Harding on Sunday. UNA (9-1, 2-0), meanwhile, defeated Georgia Southwestern 74-65 on Sunday.
The Buccaneers swept two games from UNA last season and have won five straight in the series. UNA’s last victory in the series came in the NCAA Regional in 2008.
“We haven’t won at their place,” Champagne said. “We had one game where we played pretty well and lost, but in the others we haven’t played well. It’s a tough place to play and they are really good at home.”
UNA has traditionally struggled against CBU’s Princeton-style offense. The Buccaneers are led by senior forward Michael Drake (13.3 ppg.) and junior point guard Harry Green (12.4 ppg.).
Champagne said it is important for the Lions to dictate the pace against a CBU team that averages 68.4 points per game. The Lions are averaging 82.1 points per game.
“We want to play at a fast past but that’s hard to do against them,” Champagne said. “They do a great job of making you play defense for 25 or 30 seconds and then getting a good shot.
“We tell our guys that to win the conference you have to win all our home games and steal as many as we can on the road. A win at Christian Brothers would certainly put us in a good spot.”
The UNA women will be playing for the first time in 15 days. The Lions (9-3, 2-0) saw their six-game winning streak end with a 58-49 loss to No. 16 Tampa on Dec. 19.
Coach Terry Fowler said he has been pleased with the progress his young team has made in the first half of the season.
“It’s been rewarding to see these girls grow and mature as a team,” Fowler said. “We’ve played well, even in the loss to Tampa. But now we go into a different environment and we knew we’ll have to bring our ‘A’ game.”
CBU (3-5, 0-1) is coming off a 57-52 loss to Harding on Dec. 18. The Buccaneers have lost three of their last four games, but feature one of the top players in the conference in sophomore guard Breanna Ridgell (16.4 ppg.).
“Christian Brothers is a talented team, although their record does not reflect it,” Fowler said. “They have always presented problems for us and we never seem to shoot well at their place.
“We need to be able to get some easy shots in transition. Our post players have really been playing well and we need them to step up again if we are going to win on the road.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.