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With Cox help, CSU women play on national stage

Sometime early next week I will fill out my NCAA tournament basketball brackets, enter as many on-line contests as I can find, then hope at least a couple of my Final Four picks make it that far.

It's just one of the many reasons March Madness and the NCAA basketball tournament is my favorite time of year.

The Clayton State Lady Lakers won't be included among those on-line contest. Division II teams usually fly well under the radar when it comes to garnering attention on the national landscape.

Outside their niche circle of fans, students and loyal alumni, few know much about Clayton State and its women's basketball program. That's too bad.

What they are missing is an amazing six-year run all due to the arrival of head coach Dennis Cox.

Before Cox put down roots on the picturesque campus in Morrow, Clayton State women's basketball was floundering. Yes, legendary high school coach A.C. McCullers brought it out of the doldrums during his short tenure with the Lakers, lifting it to respectability in the Peach Belt Conference, but with Cox's help, the team now plays on a national stage.

In six years at Clayton State, Cox has already become the school's winningest coach, writing a resume that includes 149 wins and just 43 losses.

Every year Cox has been in charge of the Lady Lakers, the team has won at least 20 games and earned a bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament.

He has also led the Lady Lakers to one Final Foul appearance in 2007, the closest any team at the school has ever come to bringing home a national title.

Today, Cox will try and work his magic again as the team begins play in the Southeast Regional at Lander University in Greenwood when it takes on Tusculum at 2:30 p.m.

Is this the best CSU team Cox has coached? I doubt it.

That Final Four team was pretty special as it lost to Florida Gulf Coast 61-57 in Kearney, Neb.

That team won an amazing 29 games and spread the wealth as eight different players averaged seven points or more a game with only Sharon Wiles averaging in double figures with 11.7 points a game.

What you have here might just be Cox's best coaching job.

He has taken a talented group of players and molded them into a team that is meshing at the right time.

This edition of Clayton State women's basketball had to adjust to a new offensive system, injuries and other adversities.

They also had to sneak away with two close victories in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament, a 65-64 win over Columbus State, and a 79-77 win against Lander just to set up its game against Francis Marion in the finals.

That game in the finals wasn't even in close as the Lady Lakers cruised to their third straight Peach Belt Tournament title in six years.

It's defense that has been a trade mark for Cox teams at CSU, and nothing has changed this time around.

The Lady Lakers head into the national tournament averaging 74.2 points per game, while giving up just 61.9 points per contest.

Typical CSU basketball.

Teshymia Tillman is the offensive catalyst of this team, averaging 18 points per game. Last week in the Peach Belt Conference Championship game she added to her impressive stats with a career high 34 points. She's not alone, Tanisha Woodard is tossing in 11.1 points per game. LaDe'Sha Stoudamire is chipping in 8.8 points per game, Latonda Bruce is averaging 8.3 and Brittiney Hall 8.1 points per game before being sidelined with broken bones in her hand.

If CSU makes a run, Cox is hoping Hall can rejoin the team, perhaps later down the road.

Everything is falling into place for the Lady Lakers to make another run deep into the Division II tournament.

It's something that is just expected for Clayton State when it's time for their version of March Madness.

All the pieces are starting to fall into place for the Lady Lakers, and another run could be on the horizon.

With Cox at the helm, don't count them out.

(Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com)