DAHLONEGA, Ga. – The University of North Georgia women's basketball team is in the midst of its toughest stretch of the season, taking on some of the best teams, not just in the Peach Belt Conference, but in all of NCAA Division II.
As of Wednesday morning, the Saints' five opponents between last week and this week – the University of Montevallo, Clayton State University, Georgia College, Augusta State University and the University of South Carolina Aiken – include two top-five opponents and a combined record of 52-11.
The Saints (4-8, 2-3 PBC) fought valiantly last week, but ultimately dropped a pair of games, including their second in a row to a late-game bucket, this time at the hands of Montevallo (9-6, 4-2 PBC) on Thursday.
They followed that up on Saturday by taking on then-No. 3 Clayton State (13-0, 6-0 PBC) on the road. The Saints were able to lead the Lakers at several points in the first half, but a 55-point second half that included six three-pointers from nationally-ranked Clayton State, a team not well known for it's three-point shooting, kept the Saints from capitalizing on their early momentum and gave the Lakers an 86-65 victory.
Things will not get any easier for North Georgia as the Saints will play three games in the span of five days starting with a rematch on the road against Georgia College on Thursday, Jan. 17. The Saints will then open a four-game home stand that begins with an Augusta State University team that is on the rise on Saturday, Jan. 19 followed by No. 3 USC Aiken on Monday, Jan. 21.
Saturday's 1:30 p.m. game will be North Georgia's annual "Military Appreciation Day" with all current and former military being admitted free of charge with a valid ID. Monday's 5:30 p.m. contest against USC Aiken is being dubbed "YMCA Night." All children who wear their recreational league jersey to the game will be admitted for free, but parents will still be required to pay the normal ticket price.
The Saints continue to be led by junior Jaymee Carnes' 19.7 points per game, but sophomore guard Stephanie Huffman has seen her stock rise in recent games as she has led the team in scoring in the last two games. On Saturday, Huffman matched her career-high in points with 21 against the Lakers, including 14 in the second half. The native of Woodstock, Ga. has averaged 15.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in 38.8 minutes per game in conference action.
Carnes has not been absent from the court during that stretch, averaging 19.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game for the season. The All-American from Gainesville, Ga. still leads the team with 7.4 buckets per game, but Huffman has taken over the top spot in shooting percentage as she converts 43.6% of her attempts.
Georgia College (9-3, 5-1 PBC) saw a seven-game win streak come to an end this past Saturday when Young Harris College defeated the Bobcats 66-46. The Mountain Lions shot 52% (26-50) from the field and held the Bobcats to a 36% (18-50) outing from the floor, including just four three-pointers. Young Harris also turned Georgia College's 24 turnovers into 30 points to secure the win.
For the season, Georgia College shoots just above 41% from the field and averages 60 points per game. The Bobcats have mostly relied on the PBC's sixth-leading scorer, Shanteona Keys, to lead the way as the sophomore guard averages 17.0 points per contest and shoots 50% from the field including 44.3% from three-point range. But the last time these two programs met, it was Brandi McKinney coming off the bench to give the Bobcats a spark. The junior guard scored a season-high 23 points, including the game-winning jumper, to lift Georgia College to a 72-71 victory inside Memorial Hall Gymnasium.
The Bobcats' second-leading scorer for the season is Enisha Donley with 9.8 points per game while four Bobcats average more than four rebounds a game led by Thresia Elskamp with 5.5.
After dropping the first two games of January, Augusta State (9-2, 3-2 PBC) earned its first victory of 2013 with a 75-70 win over Armstrong Atlantic State University in Augusta last Saturday.
Augusta State has really seen a turn-around in performance in the past couple years that can be seen this season as they commenced the year with an eight-game win streak. They are currently shooting 40.3% from the field including 32.7% from three-point range.
The Jaguars have been led this season by Jemimah Ashby who has averaged 13.8 points in nine games to this points, but it was fourth-leading scorer Brittany White who led the way in the Jaguars' most recent win as she tallied 16.
Also shouldering the scoring load this season have been Taylor Ayers who comes off the bench to average 12.6 points per contest and Tranchelle Hollingsworth who has started all 11 games for Augusta State and averages 11.2 points.
Under the basket, Ayers leads the way with 7.6 rebounds per game while Becky Newhouse, Laci Schreiber and Tiffany Jaecks all average over five rebounds per contest.
No. 3 USC Aiken (12-0, 5-0 PBC) is playing in one of the biggest games across the country tonight as the Pacers host No. 4 Clayton State in a 5:30 p.m. contest. Tonight's top-five showdown will go a long way to deciding this year's regular season champions.
The Pacers will then travel to Young Harris on Saturday, Jan. 19 before making their way to Dahlonega on Monday, Jan. 21 for their 5:30 p.m. contest against the Saints inside Memorial Hall Gymnasium.
USC Aiken enters the three-game stretch averaging 72.8 points per game while holding opponents to just 54 per contest. The Pacers will prove to be one of the most complete teams North Georgia will face this season as they shoot 48.1% from the field and 41.1% from three-point range.
The Pacers are led by the junior-senior tandem of Kayla Harris and Daniela Tarailo which averages a combined 34 points per game. Harris, a junior forward, averages 18.8 points and 7.2 boards per game while Tarailo accounts for 15.2 points and 3.4 three-pointers per outing. Harris is fourth in the league in scoring while Tarailo is second in three-point field goal percentage.
Junior guard Brittany Hill averages 8.0 points and 6.8 assists per game as she directs the offense while sophomore forward Mackenzie Reese is third on the team in scoring with 9.7 points per game off a league-best 59.7% shooting percentage.
As always, all North Georgia's home basketball games can be followed live via live stats and a free live webcast featuring Craig Corbin and Mike Davenport located on the schedule pages on www.SaintsSports.com. Also, Glory 1330 WGTJ Radio will continue to broadcast live during games with Mike Wofford and Drew Harris on the call. They can also be followed at www.glory1330.com or through the Tune in Radio app.