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Statistically stealthy Clayton State women keep rising

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Clayton State women’s basketball coach Dennis Cox says, “We never have been — and we’re not going to be — a team with a lot of statistical leaders.” But at 15-1 overall and 5-0 in the Peach Belt Conference, they’re getting the job done.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Clayton State women’s basketball coach Dennis Cox says, “We never have been — and we’re not going to be — a team with a lot of statistical leaders.” But at 15-1 overall and 5-0 in the Peach Belt Conference, they’re getting the job done.

It’s like committing a crime and making sure you don’t leave any fingerprints. Clayton State has won 12 consecutive women’s basketball games, steadily crept up the NCAA Division II rankings, run the table in the Peach Belt — and when you dust for league-leading statistical reasons why, at least in all the high-profile categories, it’s as if they’ve been wiped clean.

Yet, the defending national champion Lady Lakers have steamrolled most who get in their path. The latest USA Today/ESPN Division II Top 25 Coaches’ Poll, released on Tuesday, bumped them up from fifth to third nationally. They are 15-1 overall, the last five victories by double digits, and are a perfect 5-0 in the conference’s West Division as they prepare for Saturday’s game against Augusta State in the friendly confines of the Athletics and Fitness Center.

“The reason we’re doing what we’re doing is how well we play defense,” Clayton State coach Dennis Cox said Wednesday.

Defense apparently leaves no mark, bruising the Lady Lakers’ opponents on the inside.

“If you dig deeper and go to the NCAA site, you’ll see where third or fourth in turnover margin because we force a lot of turnovers,” Cox said. “We never have been — and we’re not going to be — a team with a lot of statistical leaders. We’re a defense-minded team. Tanisha Woodard is seventh or eighth in the country in steals. When you peel back the layers, that’s what you’ll find.”

Woodard is not only fourth in the conference in average blocks per game (1.9), she recently achieved a career milestone, becoming the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 144. The old mark of 143 belongs to Joya Collier, who played at CSU from 1997-2000.

Shacamra Jackson is right behind Woodard, fifth in average blocks at 1.5 a game.

Defense played a prominent role in the Lady Lakers’ most recent victory, a 68-56 decision at Francis Marion, where they held their opponent under 20 points in the first half.

“It was 41-18 at halftime and games like that are pretty much over when you have a half like that,” Cox said.

To play defense the way the Lady Lakers do it, good chemistry is a must, and that’s one of the things on which they pride themselves.

“It starts in recruiting,” Cox said. “You’ve got to recruit the right type of players — coachable, unselfish players who can be part of a system and not care what their stats are, players with winning attitudes, high-character players.”

They put as much effort into bonding as they do pressing.

“We do community service together, eat a lot of meals together, go to movies, bowl together, and that spills onto the court,” Cox said. “My assistant, Kaleena Coleman, has a lot to do with that. It’s hard to describe in words but we do have good chemistry.”

Smoke and Mirrors?

Clayton State is dominating in women’s basketball, without any single player leading the statistically exciting categories. Take a look at these numbers, which are players’ rankings in the Peach Belt Conference.

Leading scorer: Tanisha Woodard, 16th (11.1 ppg)

Leading FG shooter: Shacamra Jackson, eighth (49.5 percent)

Leading FT shooter: Drameka Griggs, ninth (73.2 percent)

Leading 3-pt. shooter: Keona Dixon, seventh (37.1 percent)

Leading rebounder: Jackson, 17th (6.1 a game)

Leading shot-blockers: Woodard, fourth (1.9 a game), Jackson, fifth (1.5)

Leading stealers: Woodard, second (3.8), Griggs, fourth (3.1) and

Brittany Hall, seventh (2.4).