The University of West Georgia men’s basketball coach will lead his eighth-seeded Wolves into the Gulf South Conference Tournament this evening at 8:30 against top-seeded and sixth-ranked Alabama-Huntsville at the Pete Hanna Center on the campus of Samford University in Homewood, Ala., and Cooney believes his team has what it takes to pull the upset.
West Georgia (9-17) has won two of its last three games entering the postseason and Cooney said it is playing as good as it can play heading into tonight’s matchup with the regular-season champion Chargers (22-4).
“Since the home loss here against Huntsville and the road loss at Shorter, that week was the probably the worst we played all year. Since then, we’ve been going up,” Cooney said. “You can see it by our free-throw shooting is better, turnovers are down, we’ve been in every game. It’s just now finishing and getting so we are comfortable out there and offensively make some shots. But we’re playing as good as we can play.”
The Chargers have won four in a row coming into tonight’s game, but all four games were decided by four points or less. Cooney said it is imperative that you play the full 40 minutes against UAH, which has made a number of last-minute comebacks this season.
“I just got done watching them play Delta State over at Delta and Delta had a 10-point lead in the last couple of minutes and they got tight and made some mistakes and gave UAH second chances. When you do that, they’re just too good and too experienced. They’ve been in the final four and the elite eight the last two years. So you’re going to have a window there and you’ve got to go through it and you’ve got to hold on for dear life all the way until the end,” Cooney said.
Alabama-Huntsville features the GSC Player of the Year in senior guard Jaime Smith, along with fellow All-GSC First Team performer Zane Campbell, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, and the league’s Freshman of the Year in guard Wayne Dedrick.
Smith finished second in the league in scoring (18.2) and led the GSC in free-throw shooting (89 percent) and assists (4.7), while ranking third in 3-point shooting (40 percent). His honor marks the third consecutive year a UAH player has won the league’s top individual honor, as the Chargers enter the GSC Tournament as a No. 1 seed for a third straight year.
Cooney said having multiple weapons on the offensive side of the ball is what makes the Chargers so tough — you can’t just shut one guy down and expect to win.
“They still have other weapons out there. That’s what makes them so difficult to defend. It’s going to be a 40-minute ball game. It’s going to come down to us taking really good shots and making plays for 40 minutes,” Cooney said. “If we’re able to do that, we have a great chance at winning the game.”
West Georgia senior point guard Quincy Hill will guide his upset-minded Wolves into tonight’s game, and he doesn’t want this one to be his — or fellow senior forward Brett Seljak — last performance in a UWG uniform.
“We feel like we can beat them. We’ve just got to go out and play our game. Most importantly, we’ve got to play good team defense in order to beat this team. Then we’ve got to score the ball to match their scoring,” Hill said. “It’s going to take a whole team effort. Not just one, two, three, but the whole team. All 10 of us. It’s going to take all of us to win this game and pull off the upset. We’ve just got to go out and play hard. We know we’re capable of doing it.”
The Wolves dropped an 81-71 decision in Huntsville back on Nov. 29 in the GSC opener and then stumbled through a 59-42 home loss in Carrollton on Jan. 31. But this is the game that holds the most significance — where it’s win or go home.
“The nice thing about us is there is no doubt as to what we need to do in order to continue to play in March. Everything we’ve been doing has been about getting ready for this game and this tournament,” Cooney said. “Our guys are well aware of the situation. If they win, they get to stay. If they lose, they’re coming home. That’s the way it goes.”