The USC Aiken Lady Pacers keep adding chapters to their storybook basketball season.
First, the Lady Pacers (20-6, 14-2 Peach Belt Conference) defeated Georgia College & State University, 73-69, to earn their first North Division title and complete their first 20-win season in nearly a decade.
The goal for coach Phil Stern's top-seeded squad in the Peach Belt Conference tournament is very simple.
"We want to play as long as we are allowed to," said Stern, who is in his third year at USC Aiken. "With the quality of ladies we have on this team, they don't want to settle with just 20 wins."
USC Aiken heads into today's first-round tournament action for a noon contest against North Florida at Finis Horne Arena in Greenwood, S.C. Augusta State (12-14, 5-11) plays Columbus State (25-0, 16-0) at 5 p.m.
The Lady Pacers have defeated North Florida twice during the regular season, Stern knows better than to overlook the Lady Ospreys.
"We know not to look past anyone," Stern said. "Even though we beat them by 21 points, doesn't mean that we are any better than they are. We approach every game as if we are playing the No. 1 team in the conference."
Defense has been the backbone of USC Aiken's success. The Lady Pacers have held 11 of their past 13 opponents to 60 points or less.
Winning the North Division was an accomplishment on its own. Three years ago, USC Aiken was a dismal 5-12 and 0-16 in the PBC. Last season, the team was 15-12 and 7-9. The sophomore leadership of Jami Cornwell and transfer Julie Szabo have given Stern plenty of options on the court.
"Jami is one the better players in the country," Stern said. "She is a great leader, and she understands the game. Julie was a nice fit this year, and she sacrificed her scoring for her teammates and the chance to win a championship. We have no egos on our team."
LIKE DAVID WITHOUT a slingshot, the Augusta State has the dreadful task of facing the No. 1 team in the nation.
"We have to go in and play our hardest, and play the way we know we can play," said Lady Jaguars forward Faith Nixon, who leads the team with a 10.7 point per game average. "We're due for a good game. We haven't played as well as we'd liked these last five games. We're just going to go out and give our all. Hopefully, we'll come out with a `W'."
Augusta State has lost 10 straight games to Columbus State, including a 101-56 beating in Augusta. The Lady Jaguars have committed 79 turnovers in their past two meetings with the Lady Cougars.
Columbus State features former Laney star Kinesha Harden and Josey star Kellie Holland. Harden was named this week's PBC Player of the Week and leads the team with a 12.8 point per game average and a 7.0 rebounding average. Holland is averaging 8.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg.
The Lady Cougars feature an up-tempo offense and play a full-court press. Columbus leads the nation in scoring (90.4 ppg) and scoring margin (plus-31.2 ppg).
Augusta State coach Greg Wilson has been searching for answers for the best team in the country. One thing he won't do is slow down the game.
"Our style has always been to run," Wilson said. "They're just deeper and faster and quicker. We're not going to try and slow the game down. That's not our style. But when you're playing Columbus State, they're going to dictate the tempo."
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