And when Groninger returns to Canale Arena in Memphis, it always brings back fond memories from his time there. Of course, it also stirs up some mixed emotions — and tonight’s 6 p.m. Gulf South Conference tip will mark the last time he’ll sit opposite from a class that he actually recruited to the Lady Buc program.
“Those are good people there. I have a lot of loyalty to them, as well. I’ve still got one class there — the senior class there — are all kids that I recruited, so it’s always difficult to play in that situation. Plus it’s a tough place to play. We’re going to have to be really ready to go,” Groninger said.
The Wolves (9-4, 3-2 GSC) are coming off a big conference weekend that saw them knock off rival Valdosta State on Thursday night and turn around and down West Florida two days later behind a career night from senior guard Mone’ Peoples, who poured in 33 points. And while all that is fine and dandy, Groninger said it doesn’t mean much if his squad isn’t focused to play this evening.
“The thing about conference play is, last game was last game. I think you’ve got to generate your momentum every time you play. We’ve definitely got a little bit more pep to our step this week after winning two games, but if we don’t go out and play well Thursday, none of that’s going to matter,” Groninger said.
“I thought we had a pretty valuable lesson handed to us in the first half against West Florida. They came out and apparently didn’t read the memo that they were just supposed to lay down and let us win after we beat Valdosta [on Thursday]. Hopefully, we’ll mature into that. But we’ll see. It’s hard. It’s a long bus trip, a difficult place to play and they’re going to be hungry. I know those kids well. And they’re going to be really, really hungry for a win. We’re going to have to play our best.”
The Lady Bucs (3-10, 0-5) limp into tonight’s contest having lost six straight, but do feature some weapons the Wolves will have to contend with, led by Breanna Ridgell. The sophomore guard is third in the GSC in scoring at 16.2 points per game.
“She’s a really good scorer. She can shoot the 3, she gets to the rim. She can go left, she can go right. She’s a handful, matchup-wise, because she does a little bit of everything,” Groninger said. “After that, their bigs rebound the ball well. They block shots. Something that we’re going to have to get better at, in terms of dealing with a presence in the middle. They’re just a scrappy group.”
Currently bottled up in the middle of the pack in the GSC standings, Groninger said it’s still a little too early to be concerned with who is in front of them and who is on the chase right now. After all, conference play is much more of a marathon than a sprint, and the UWG coach said he doesn’t truly gauge where things are until one time through the league schedule.
“Once you’ve played everybody once, you can start talking about, ‘OK, here’s where we are. Here’s where we want to be.’ Right now, our focus, really and honestly, is just trying to get better each night out so we can build some momentum about us playing better. I don’t think our kids are really worried about the standings right now. We’re just trying to win games and let the standings take care of themselves,” Groninger said.