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Lady Lakers open Heritage Bank Holiday Classic

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Clayton State reserve guard Keona Dixon has led the Lady Lakers in scoring twice this season. She is averaging 8.1 points per game as the team takes on West Georgia today in Heritage Classic.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Clayton State reserve guard Keona Dixon has led the Lady Lakers in scoring twice this season. She is averaging 8.1 points per game as the team takes on West Georgia today in Heritage Classic.

There’s a bull’s eye on the backs of the Clayton State women’s basketball team. It comes with the territory when you’re the defending national champion.

The fifth-ranked Lady Lakers (10-1) will be in the crosshairs once again tonight, following a nine-day layoff, when they play host to West Georgia in their Heritage Bank Holiday Classic at the Athletics and Fitness Center. They are coming off an effort that didn’t leave coach Dennis Cox feeling all warm and fuzzy, but it still proved good enough for their seventh consecutive victory.

“I tell you, it seems like every game feels like a playoff game, it has that playoff intensity,” Cox said Wednesday. “Everybody we play seems ultra-prepared, ultra-focused and we get everyone’s best shot. That’s something we’re getting used to. We’ve got to be at our best every night.”

When last the Lady Lakers took the court Dec. 19, they survived 34-percent shooting from the field and equally dismal production at the free-throw line for a 55-54 victory on the road against a .500-level Columbus State team. Defense saved the day down the stretch, as it has most of the season. The Lady Lakers have allowed only two teams to breach the 60-point barrier against them.

Defense has been a necessity because the offense doesn’t have a true go-to player, the way it did last season when Teshymia Tillman could set her teammates' minds at ease. Drameka Griggs leads the team with a 10.8-point average, the only Lady Laker in double figures. Through 11 games, seven players have claimed game-high scoring honors after Tanisha Woodard, last year’s second-leading scorer, added her name to the list with a season-high 14 points in Columbus.

“This team is not as dominant as last year’s,” Cox said. “We have to fight and scratch and claw for every win. Wins aren’t coming as easily as last year, but w’'re appreciating them a lot more.”

West Georgia also last played on Dec. 19, routing Southern Poly 55-26 in Carrollton. The Lady Wolves are led by Mone Peoples, who averages nearly 14 points a game. She’s one of three West Georgia players in double figures — the other two are Shunice Hardy (10.8) and former Luella star Breonna Mosley (10.2).

Peoples will cause problems because her ball-handling skills fit the up-tempo approach the Lady Wolves are likely to bring to Clayton State.

“They’re very athletic, probably going to run that four-out, one-in style of motion offense,” Cox said. “They run good stuff. They like the game up-tempo. Georgia Southwestern is similar to them. It should be a good one.”

Lander, which has been a big part of previous Heritage Bank Holiday Classics, will take on Wingate in a 3:30 p.m. game. On Friday, the Lady Lakers will play Wingate while Lander takes on West Georgia.