The Wolves (10-5, 4-3 GSC) currently sit one game behind the Lions (12-5, 5-2) — who are in a three-way tie for first with Delta State and Union — in the league standings and they’ll have to contend with the reigning conference player of the week in UNA junior forward Mekena Randle.
The 5-foot-9 Arkansas State transfer leads the GSC in double-doubles (10) and is second in the league in rebounding (10.3 rpg), fourth in field goal percentage (48 percent) and 10th in scoring (13.3 ppg). Complementing Randle in the Lion frontcourt is 6-foot-1 junior forward Nichelle Fillmore, who leads the league in field goal percentage (58 percent), averaging 9.6 points and 5.3 rebounds with a team-high 15 blocks on the year.
“I mean, they’re really having a good year. They’ve got a lot of new faces, but [UNA] coach [Terry Fowler] has done a great job with them. They’re playing at an unbelievable level right now. If the league ended today, they’d be the No. 1 seed. So they’re the best team in the league right now,” UWG coach Scott Groninger said. “Their strength is going to be tough to overcome. Randle is just a terrific post player. A really, really high-motor kid that plays hard, rebounds and scores in traffic. She might get a rebound and go coast-to-coast. And then Fillmore is a big body inside that will be tough to deal with also.”
The Lions feature the No. 1 defense (55.5 ppg) in the GSC, and Groninger said you’ve got to value every possession against a team like UNA.
“Terry’s always been a great defensive coach. They don’t do anything fancy. They just stay in front of the ball, block out and rebound,” Groninger said.
The Wolves are coming off a two-game GSC road swing to Christian Brothers and Delta State, where they won a 59-56 decision against the Lady Bucs on Jan. 17 and suffered a 65-54 setback to the Lady Statesmen in Cleveland, Miss., this past Saturday.
Groninger said it’s taken the team a couple of days to get its feet fully back under it, but the UWG coach said his ball club will be ready to go tonight.
“It’s a long trip down there and especially a long trip back. But we’re healthy. It’s a big week playing the two top teams in the league that have been the two best teams in the league so far through seven games. So it’s a great challenge week for us to see where we are as a team,” said Groninger, who takes his squad on the road following tonight’s game to Union in Jackson, Tenn., for a 3 p.m. contest on Saturday.
And while it is nice to be back home tonight, the Wolves face a UNA squad that is 3-0 on the road in conference play, knocking off Alabama-Huntsville, Delta State and Christian Brothers. The Lions’ two league losses actually came at home in down-to-the-wire affairs with Shorter (61-60) and Union (54-49).
“We’ve been preaching all along, and I think most coaches in the league would preach, that you win your home games and you try to get a couple of steals on the road. But again, all that home and away stuff, all that stuff sounds important, but once the game starts, everybody’s got 94 feet and 10-foot goals. Everybody’s got nice places to play. So, really, it’s just a matter of executing on Thursday,” Groninger said.