The 6-0 Valdosta State Blazers will be back in action Saturday as they open Gulf South Conference play against rival West Florida.
The Blazers last played Nov. 30 on the road in Boca Raton, Fla. against Lynn, a game which saw VSU play in its third consecutive overtime contest and emerge with an 81-80 victory.
Blazers head coach Mike Helfer believes his team’s recent flair for closing in dramatic fashion should prove beneficial as the season rolls on.
“I’ve never had three games in a row as a head coach or an assistant in overtime,” Helfer said. “For us to be able to win all three shows a lot about our character and toughness when the game was on the line. Hopefully you can rely on that, especially in conference play where games come down to the last few minutes and guys have got to make plays.”
UWF comes into Saturday winless (0-4) and will be looking to cool off the Blazers’ hot start. Looks may be deceiving even for UWF, whom have lost twice to No. 10 ranked Montevallo and No. 21 Georgia Southwestern.
“[West Florida] is a very talented, very physical team,” Helfer added. “They use their athleticism and strength around the goal—that’s kind of been Coach Stinnett’s trademark and this year is no different. I would expect a very well-played game, a very physical game. The team that can have more success around the goal is probably going to be the team that might win.”
After Thursday’s practice, Helfer downplayed the possibility of his team letting its guard down to begin conference play.
“I don’t know if it’s a trap game or not,” Helfer said. “Everybody is 0-0 when you’re going into the conference so it doesn’t really matter what you’ve done to this point. Conference basketball always brings a different energy level so I would hope that we’ll play well and play hard. It’s going to be a good GSC basketball game.”
Last season, Helfer saw his team split its two meetings against the Argonauts. Both games came down to the wire as UWF won 99-93 on its home floor then a month later, the Blazers stormed back from a 14-point second-half deficit on Senior Day to defeat the Argonauts 86-81 in overtime.
UWF will be led by returning seniors Nate Johnson and Ellis Young III, as well as sophomore newcomer Mario Stramaglia. The trio has combined for 33.0 points per game this season.
“The one thing West Florida has been since Bob Stinnett got there is they’re very well-coached,” Helfer said. “They don’t take many bad shots, they don’t turn the ball over, they do good things and they play really hard. I think that’s a credit to Bob and his staff for what they’ve been able to get done. They’ll be very well-coached and it’ll be a battle.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. at the VSU P.E. Complex.
This article was written by Shane Thomas.