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Lady Eagles have their work cut out
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Georgia Southern guard Samantha Williams pulls up and hits a jumper over Jacksonville's Jade Cargill during a December 21 victory at Hanner Fieldhouse.

Don’t get tense. Just have fun.

That’s the message Georgia Southern women’s basketball head coach Rusty Cram said he wants his Lady Eagles to remember when they play in the first round of the Southern Conference Tournament today.

GSU (8-21), the No. 10 seed, will play No. 7 seed Western Carolina (13-16) at 2 p.m. at Kimmel Arena in Asheville, N.C. The winner will advance to play No. 2 seed Appalachian State (23-5) in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Saturday at Kimmel Arena.

Cram wants his Lady Eagles to play with the same enthusiasm they displayed en route to a 59-47 victory over UNC Greensboro on Feb. 20 at Hanner Fieldhouse. It marked the program’s 200th SoCon win, snapped a seven-game losing streak and allowed senior guards Janay Wilson and Samantha Williams a memorable Senior Night.

After the game, Wilson was already looking ahead to today’s game in the SoCon Tournament.

"The SoCon Tournament, it’s 0-0 when we get there," Wilson said. "Someone told me there’s no rule in the NCAA that says if you have a losing record going into the SoCon that you can’t win the tournament. It’s anybody’s game."

When told of Wilson’s comment, Cram smiled.

"You know, you hear seniors make that kind of comment, it makes a coach feel good because they’re the ones that have got to make it happen on the court, and tonight showed what kind of team I thought they could be," he said. "If they go in with that kind of confidence and we start playing basketball and turn that corner, I couldn’t agree with her more.

"But I can say it until I’m blue in the face. But when you get your athletes saying it, you know, that’s two-thirds of the battle."

GSU beat Western Carolina, 41-40, on Jan. 21 at Hanner Fieldhouse. The Lady Eagles lost, 55-46, to the Lady Catamounts on Saturday in Cullowhee, N.C.

Western Carolina is led by All-SoCon selection Kaila’Shea Menendez, a senior guard who averages 11.7 points per game. Freshman guard Ali Lane, an All-SoCon Freshman Team selection, averages 4.9 points.

Last season, Western Carolina knocked GSU out of the tournament in the first round with a 48-42 victory in Chattanooga, Tenn.

In 2007, Western Carolina ended GSU’s season in the semifinals, rallying for a 73-59 victory in Charleston, S.C.

GSU leads the series, 32-15. Perhaps the most memorable game between the teams was in 2005, when Western Carolina managed a 97-95 double-overtime victory over GSU in the SoCon Tournament championship game in Chattanooga, Tenn. GSU became the first No. 5 seed to advance to the title game. Western Carolina became the second No. 6 seed to win the tournament, joining Appalachian State in 1999.

GSU is coming off a 67-57 loss to Furman in the regular-season finale Monday in Greenville, S.C. Junior guard Meredyth Frye scored a career-high 30 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the field. It was the most points scored by any player in the SoCon this season and the most points scored by a Lady Eagle since Sharon Mitchell reached 30 points in 1998. Frye leads GSU with 10.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

"Once you start tensing up, and every coach in America knows it, every sports fan who has watched any sport, when you’re losing it’s hard to smile," Cram said. "Attitudes change. You lose some confidence. You don’t believe in yourself, much less your team. All those negatives contribute to losing. As much as winning breeds winning, losing breeds losing."


Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.