The LaGrange women's basketball team is on a roll entering its game Thursday against Greensboro in the first round of the USA South Tournament in Maryville, Tenn.
The fourth-seeded Panthers (17-8) have won seven of their last eight games, the only loss coming to tournament host and top-seed Maryville. Greensboro (14-10), seeded fifth, defeated the Panthers 63-55 on Jan. 25. The Pride are the defending tournament champions and edged the Panthers 61-57 in last year's semifinals.
"This is a very exciting time of year to be a college basketball player and a basketball coach. You work all year for a chance to play in the USA South Conference Tournament and we are excited about making it again this season," said Coach Lee Buchanan. "We have earned our way to the tournament and now we have to embrace the moment and opportunity. We have an experienced squad and I like the way we have handled the last part of the regular-season winning back-to-back road games."
The Panthers finished the regular season on a high note, winning at Piedmont for the first time ever. Sophomore Lauren Johnson led all scorers with 16 points in the 79-70 win.
Johnson leads a very balanced scoring attack that does not have one player in double figures. She leads the team with a 9.0 points per game average. Freshman Marilauren Farr follows Johnson with 8.1 points per game. Senior Kelsey Mitchell is averaging 7.5 points per game, while junior Kelsey Walthall is averaging 7.2
Mitchell leads the team and is second in the USA South with 98 assists. She is averaging 6.0 rebounds per game, second to senior Madison Barker's 6.1 average.
We seem to be playing some of our best basketball of the season on both ends of the court right now. We are very solid on the defensive end and are one of the top defensive teams in the country," Buchanan said. "It is something we have focused on all season and we do a good job of guarding opponents. We have also found some offense in the last few games and we are executing much better right now."
The Panthers are the top defensive team in the USA South, allowing opponents 51.0 points per game. They rank 14th nationally in the NCAA Division III statistics. The Panthers were 15-1 this season when holding an opponent under 50 points.
Unlike the men's tournament, there were no surprise teams on the women's side as all eight of the preseason coaches poll picks made the tournament. The only change in the preseason order was Piedmont finishing second and Ferrum third.
The LaGrange-Greensboro winner will play the Maryville-Meredith winner Friday at 7 p.m. in the semifinals. The championship game is Saturday at 2 p.m. The tournament champion receives the conference's automatic NCAA Division III tournament bid.
"We are very team oriented and will need to continue to get contributions from all our players to give us a chance to be successful," pointed out Buchanan. "If we can guard our opponents and continue to find offense I like our chance in the tournament."