Lipscomb's Lady Bisons will be seeking their second straight Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Championship this week in Dothan, Ala.
The Lady Bisons won the tournament last season as the No. 2 seed, and earned the conference's automatic NCAA bid in their first season of eligibility, a history-making accomplishment. This time around the Lady Bisons, losers of their last four regular season games, are the No. 6 seed. Thursday night they play the last of four opening round games against No. 3-seeded Georgia State.
The Lady Bisons finished 10-10 in the conference and 13-14 overall in the regular season, but they were only two games out of second place.
"I don't know if the seeding really matters a whole lot," said Lipscomb coach Frank Bennett. "The league is so balanced. UCF is the favorite, but there are going to be a lot of close games."
Bennett thinks the Lady Bisons are ready for the challenge, despite the late season struggles.
"We have played a lot of close games," Bennett said. "Early in the season we were winning those close games. Late in the season we lost them. All of our games, with the exception of two in the conference, have been decided in the last two minutes. We have to do what it takes to start winning those games again."
The Lady Bisons beat Georgia State in overtime last year in the tournament semifinals. The two teams split this season with each team winning on its home court. This is the last season that Georgia State will be a part of the conference.
"Georgia State is very talented and very well coached," Bennett said. "Patechia Hartman has scored 30 points on us before. She is very capable of lighting it up."
Bennett also is concerned about forward/center April Clyburn, a strong rebounder, and guard Dee Dee Merriweather, who has picked up her 3-point shooting.
"Georgia State has good speed and good size," Bennett said. "They have a very strong lineup."
The Lady Bisons are searching for some consistency offensively in the final days before the tournament opens.
"The big thing for us is we need to knock down our shots," Bennett said. "We haven't been finishing well around the basket."
Senior wing player Courtney Boynton has been the leading scorer for the Lady Bosons, but also plays a strong all-around game. She leads the conference in steals. She is also in the top 10 in assists.
"Courtney has not shot well in a couple of weeks, but she is a tournament player and I'm sure she will be ready," Bennett said. "She has been rebounding well. She is one of the best anticipators I have ever seen which makes her so effective in making steals."
Bennett also expects Pate, last year's tournament MVP, to take her game up another notch or two as well. Pate leads the conference in blocked shots.
"She has been pain-free and that shows in her rebounding in the last 12-to-14 games," Bennett said. "She is one of the best defensive players in the conference. She can block shots, force players to alter their shots, and she knows when to help on defense. The last thing to come around for her has been her scoring, and we are working hard on that."
Georgia State Coach Lea Henry's team has won its last five games.
"I feel pretty good about the way we have played over the past month," Henry said. "It is always a good match-up when we play Lipscomb. I have a lot of respect for Frank. They play with so much chemistry and enthusiasm. I admire them for that."
Practice for the Lady Bisons is Wednesday afternoon in Dothan. The first round game with Georgia State will start at 8:15 CST.
The semifinals are Friday. The championship game is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday.