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CSU women set to meet Tusculum in NCAA Regional

By Doug Gorman

dgorman@news-daily.com

Six must be some kind of magic number for the Clayton State women's basketball team.

Six years ago, head coach Dennis Cox set up shop on the lake-lined CSU campus in Morrow and his women's basketball team has been a major player among NCAA Division II programs ever since.

Since his arrival, the Lady Lakers have been to the NCAA Division II Tournament six straight years, and won at least 20-games six years in a row.

Cox's success includes a 149-43 record and one trip to the Final Four, making him the third winningest active coach at the NCAA Division II level.

The Lady Lakers would like nothing more than to add to Cox and the school's postseason basketball success as Clayton State gets set to open the NCAA Southeast Regional Friday against Tusculum at Lander University in Greenwood, S.C.

The 19th-ranked Lakers enter 2:30 p.m. tip-off fresh off winning their third Peach Belt Conference tournament title in six years after defeating Francis Marion 94-75 in the finals on Sunday.

With the win, the Lady Lakers received an automatic bid. Still there must have been a time when Cox wondered if his team was going to end its streak of making it to the NCAA tournament.

Injuries and other adversities, plus a new offensive package Cox put into his system, could have derailed the team's season, especially when it lost back-to-back conference games to Columbus State and league newcomer Montevallo late in the season.

But the team has responded to all the setbacks.

"We have just as much talent as any team I have had here," Cox said. "I said at the beginning of the season, the key was going to be putting it all together. It's just been a matter of everybody coming together and learning a system, even our returners had new things to absorb."

The Lady Lakers even had some struggles once they got to the Peach Belt Conference Tournament. The Lady Lakers beat Columbus State 66-65 in the first round and Lander 79-77 in overtime.

Cox knows how important it was for CSU to pull out the close victories in the tournament.

"I told several people lately, that this year I believe more than any other year, I have gained an appreciation for just how hard it is to do this. As good as our record was and being nationally ranked all year, we were a loss away from not getting in the tournament," he said.

Cox's squad is paced by Teshymia Tillman's 18 points per game average. The native of High Point, N.C. also set a school record for 202 field goals made this season. Tanisha Woodard is averaging 11.1 points per game for the Lakers.

Clayton State and Tusculum aren't strangers. The two teams met in last year's second round Southeast Regional, and also early this year in the regular season with a CSU winning 87-79 in overtime.

The Lady Pioneers are led by Jasmine Gunn's 20.7 points per game. Jasmine Parker, who played high school basketball at Morrow High School, is a guard for the Lady Pioneers.

This season

Parker helped led her club to the South Atlantic Conference Tournament title.

The Morrow graduate is averaging 8.8 points per game.

Also at the Southeast Regional, Lander (25-3) meets Anderson (20-10), Francis Marion (26-4) takes on Newberry (21-7) Carson-Newman (23-6) faces Lenoir-Rhyne (21-7).

"This is going to be as tough regional," Cox said. "Whoever comes out of here, will be a great representative at the Elite 8."