MORROW, GA -- The 2011 season has seen PBC women’s basketball teams reach unprecedented heights and this Thursday will raise that level even higher as, for the first time in conference history, two undefeated PBC teams, ranked 1 and 2 in the nation, meet head-to-head. Lander will make the drive to Morrow, Ga., as the #1-ranked team in the nation to face #2-ranked Clayton State.
“It’s rare at any level, in any sport, to have two undefeated teams play each other this late into a season, let alone #1 and #2,” said Lander head coach Kevin Pederson, currently in his sixth season. “These are the games you want to be a part of, as a player and a coach.”
“This is big for the program and for the attention we will get from it,” said Clayton State head coach Dennis Cox, who is 171-44 in his seventh season at the Laker helm. “Someone has to lose. And the big thing here is whoever wins has the inside track and hosting the NCAA Regional. While it may not be a done deal, it gives you an advantage.”
Lander enters the game 23-0 and 13-0 in Peach Belt Conference play while Clayton State sits at 22-0 and 11-0. Lander reached the #1 ranking in the ESPN/WBCA Top 25 poll for the first time in program history while Clayton State, at #2, has also reached their highest national ranking ever. But, as both coaches are quick to point out, a regular-season game will not make or break a season.
“We have won 23 games by taking the ‘one game at a time’ approach. I think it’s important to understand that if you win you only get credit for one win, and if you lose, you only get one loss,” said Pederson. “ We need to keep doing what we do, nothing more and nothing less. A lot of people want to make this game larger than life, but I think it’s important to maintain the same approach we have used all season.”
The game will be the 21st meeting in the series between Clayton State and Lander, with the Lakers holding a 13-7 lead.
The two teams split last season’s series. The Lady Bearcats won the regular season meeting 74-68 at Lander’s Horne Arena, but Clayton State returned the favor in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament semifinals with a thrilling 79-77 overtime victory on a 3-point play by center Jene’e Jeminson.
Cox calls this a very “healthy” rivalry between the two programs.
“It’s a good friendly rivalry,” Cox said. “Not only do us coaches like and have respect for each other, but the players truly respect each other. That’s why it will be a great game and both teams will really get after it.”
“Dennis does a great job and his teams are always well coached and prepared to play," said Pederson. "Since we came to Lander six years ago, Clayton has been the model program that everyone tries to emulate.”
Lander is outscoring opponents an average of 78-59. The Lady
Bearcats have already beaten a team that was No. 3 at the time,
Tusculum, 72-48, Nov. 13.
Lander’s closest call was a 75-73 win at Carson-Newman Dec. 8, the Lady Bearcats won at the University of the District of Columbia 59-55 in December, and they broke a 61-all tie with less than two minutes to go last week in a 70-63 PBC home victory over Columbus State.
Senior post player Shannon McKever is Lander’s statistical leader, averaging 17.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. She has posted 11 double-doubles this season and leads the Peach Belt with 75 blocked shots.
Jasmine Judge averages 11.9 points per game and has hit 77 3-pointers this season, Ciara Lyons scores 10.9 points per game, Tasheba Butler 10.1, Mukia Myrick 9.2 and Brittni Johnson 8.7
Teshymia Tillman leads the Lakers with 14.4 points per game, while Tanisha Woodard averages 12.6 points per contest. Drameka Griggs averages 9.7 per game and six players score between six and eight points on this team. Like Lander, Clayton State is a deep team.
Clayton State has seldom been challenged this season. The Lakers are outscoring opponents an average of 80-57 and have had one single-figure victory, that coming on national television Jan. 15 when they won 66-60 at USC Aiken.
Cox’s Lakers come into the contest leading the Peach Belt Conference in six categories – scoring offense (80.4 ppg), scoring margin (+23.3), field goal percentage (.456), blocked shots (4.6 bpg), steals (18.8 spg), turnover margin (+11.4) and offensive rebounding (16.9 rpg). In addition, Clayton State also leads the nation in both steals and turnover margin, and is ranked second in scoring margin and ninth in scoring offense.
Although tip-off is at 5:30 p.m., the doors to the Clayton State Athletic and Fitness Center open at 4:30 p.m., and Clayton State fans are being urged to "arrive at 5" for what promises to be a full house. As an added bonus, the first 200 Clayton State students in the door with their Laker ID cards will receive a "Beat Lander" T-shirt. Plus, admission for the Thursday night doubleheader (the Clayton State men play Lander at 7:30 p.m.) is free.
Special thanks to Lee Wright and David Hays for their contributions to this article