Over the final three games of the regular season, the Wolves (15-9, 9-7 GSC) faced top-seeded Delta State on Saturday, visit the second-place Lions (17-9, 10-6) tonight and then end it will Union, which would be in first in the standings but isn’t eligible for the tournament in its first year in the conference.
The start to the three-game gauntlet didn’t begin well in a loss, but the second seed is still within reach of UWG if it finishes out strong.
“Every game we play, you want to get in there and win. We didn’t feel like we played our best basketball on Saturday, obviously, and we want to improve on that and see what we can do against North [Alabama] on the road,” UWG coach Scott Groninger said.
In the first meeting, UWG used a strong finish to the first half to build a four-point halftime lead and would never give it up in the final 20 minutes in what would eventually be a 14-point win. Groninger doesn’t expect a repeat performance, as the Lions will be ready for what the Wolves bring and honoring their three seniors.
“I think they’re going to play a little faster offensively and push the tempo some. I think they’ll be prepared for our stuff a little better. Again, they’re a well-coached team. They’re coming off a game where they really shot the 3 well, they had a kid go 5-for-5. You always play a little better at home than you do on the road, especially this time of year,” Groninger said.
Saturday’s loss was a learning experience for the Wolves, who will have to get used to big-game situations — starting tonight.
“I just look for us to go back to doing the things that have made us successful. We just panicked in a big game like that and kind of went away from those things. Look for us to execute a little bit better than what we did, take care of the ball a little better than we did, rebound the ball better. It’s not a magic formula anymore. It’s about staying within yourself and doing what you can do,” Groninger said.
A shot at the top seed for the tournament was lost with Saturday’s setback, but the No. 2 seed is still a very good possibility. This year, the UWG coach believes any team can go out and win the tournament if it starts playing its best ball at the right time. That includes his team, noting it just have a few kinks to work out to make a run at the conference crown.
“Once you get into tournament play, everything goes out the window. You’re one-and-done if you don’t get things squared away. The pressure of going into these games is good for us. We still have a lot of kids that didn’t play together last year and we’ve got a lot of moving parts. We’re still trying to figure out how we’re going to be in these big games. It’s a great opportunity, but I don’t think there’s anybody in the league that can’t push you to the max,” Groninger said. “I still think anybody can win this thing. Whoever’s playing best at that time will.”