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No. 1 Lady Commodores clash with No. 4 Northwest

By Dustin Kent
The top-ranked Lady Commodores didn’t exactly take a breather before jumping into their Panhandle Conference schedule, taking a trip to Americus, Ga., for three games in three days.

Gulf Coast (13-0) won all three, including a pair of toughly-contested victories over No. 11 Shelton State and No. 25 Eastern Florida State.

For Lady Commodores coach Roonie Scovel, however, those matchups weren’t quite as inspiring as what her team faces when it opens league play Saturday with a trip to Niceville to take on No. 4 Northwest Florida State.

“These are the fun games. These are exciting,” she said. “My personality is a little different waking up after that three game series knowing what’s coming on Saturday. There’s a little more excitement, a little more fire. This is showtime. The pre-conference is good and all, but conference time is showtime.”

Gulf Coast has already notched four wins this season against nationally-ranked teams, though Scovel said that the Lady Raiders (15-1) present a unique sort of challenge for her team.

“Gosh, they’re so good,” she said. “Their post game is good, they’re athletic, their team chemistry looks good. They play with each other and for each other, and they have a lot of weapons. They can do a lot of things on the offensive end and you’ve got to guard.

“They’ve got all the pieces and they’re playing on their home floor. We’ve got to go out there and play a great game or we’re gonna come back with a loss.”

That could be said for pretty much every team in the Panhandle on every night, and with only two spots available for the region tournament, and thus the national tournament, the competition will be as heated as ever.

Gulf Coast, Northwest Florida State, and Chipola (15-1) are the top three ranked teams in the state and three of the top six in the country.

Even Pensacola State (12-5), ranked No. 9 in the state, and Tallahassee (9-5), ranked No. 10 in the state, can’t be taken for granted, Scovel said.

“Every year you have Panhandle teams be undefeated going into conference play and then we start beating up on each other,” she said. “You look at TCC last year. They were undefeated and scoring over 100 points per game and lost their first four conference games.

“I’m smart enough to know you have to respect what all of these teams can do. There are 12 games and we have to go out there in every one and play our best because people are gonna bring their ‘A’ games against us. That’s one thing I can absolutely guarantee you.”

Gulf Coast has been the picture of consistency on the court this season, starting the year at No. 1 and holding the top spot for all of the ensuing six polls.

This despite having not very much consistency with its lineup, with key returner Nadia Marshall missing every game thus far with an injury, 3-point specialist Laila Grant suffering a season-ending injury, and Georgia Tech transfer D’Asia Gregg just getting her eligibility back after missing the fall semester.

Scovel said she’s proud of her team’s ability to continue winning and staying atop the state and national polls despite those challenges.

“We can sit here and smile for at least another couple of days and say we’ve been No. 1 from the beginning to now,” she said. “That may change Sunday, but I’m pleased with the fact that we’ve found a way to keep winning where a lot of other teams haven’t figured that out.”

One thing the Lady Commodores have been able to count on is the offensive production of Ahlana Smith. The UCLA transfer has played in 12 of 13 games and is averaging 23.9 points on 48.3 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent from the 3-point line.

Sophomore forward Naomi Mbandu is also putting in 14.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest, while freshman forward Tatiana Jones is posting a double-double with 11.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per contest.

A versatile 6-foot-2 forward, Gregg has added a new dimension to the team and averaged 15 points while knocking in 7 of 18 threes in her first three games in Americus.

As impressive as the Lady Commodores have been, Scovel said she looks over the landscape of the Panhandle Conference and takes absolutely nothing for granted.

“We may not win another game. It’s just that simple,” she said. “Last year after everything that happened to us, I said we could go through that conference season and not win another game. That has happened to teams. We are working for it not to happen, we don’t want it to happen, and we’re not planning for it, but it certainly can happen to anybody in this conference.”


 

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