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Clayton State Laker women return to NCAA Elite Eight

By Doug Gorman

dgorman@news-daily.com

For the second time in three years, the Clayton State women's basketball program is headed to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.

If all goes well, the Lakers could bring home the school's first national title.

To achieve that goal, Clayton State (26-6) will first have to get by the University of Alaska-Anchorage (27-3) Seawolves Tuesday afternoon in San Antonio, Tx.

Tip off for the game is 3 p.m. at the Bill Greehey Arena.

To get to the Elite Eight, Clayton State needed an at-large bid to the Southeast Regional last week.

From there, they squeaked by Carson-Newman 68-66, defeated Tusculum 79-68 and then poured it on Francis Marion with a second-half offensive explosion, 79-68 to advance to the Elite Eight.

"We are excited to get there again, and we know every game is going to be a challenge," Cox said. "We just have to take it one game at a time."

Anchorage-Alaska comes into the contest ranked second in the most recent NCAA Division II poll, and they are some what of a mystery for Cox and his team.

"We don't know a lot about them," Cox said. "We do know they might be one of the best defensive teams we have seen. They spent a bunch of the year ranked No. 1 and it could be a contrast in styles. We obviously have our work cut out for us, but it's just great to be able to go there and still be playing."

Monday's victory over Francis Marion showcased the Lakers' balanced scoring attack.

The Lakers used a 12-1 run to open the second half en route to a victory against a Francis Marion squad, which like Clayton State, is a member of the Peach Belt Conference.

Lisa Jackson had a double-double to lead her team to the victory over the Patriots as she poured in 22 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.

Shanrika Hardeman also added a double-double to her performance, with 18 points and 14 rebounds.

However, red-shirt senior Marie St. Fort was the catalyst for the team's explosive offense as she was named MVP of the tournament with 16 points and 6 rebounds.

"We have eight players who are averaging eight to 11 points per game, so on any given day we have players who can step up. Marie St. Fort in particular really stepped up and was a warrior in the region tournament," Cox said.

This isn't the first time Clayton State has flirted with winning a national crown under the direction of current head coach Dennis Cox. Two years, ago, Clayton State advanced to the Final Four before bowing out to Florida Gulf Coast.

In addition to the University of Alaska-Anchorage, other teams standing in the way of Clayton State and a national title are Michigan Tech, Minnesota-Mankato, California (Pa), Franklin Pierce, Delta State, and West Texas A&M.