FLORENCE — It has been a season of streaks for the North Alabama men’s basketball team.
The Lions reeled off nine consecutive wins to open the season and later won five straight Gulf South Conference games. Late in the season UNA hit a tough stretch, losing three in a row.
UNA hopes to keep another winning streak going this week in the GSC Tournament. The Lions (19-7) won their final two regular season games and open tournament play Friday at 7:30 p.m., against West Florida (12-14).
Junior forward Bruce Adams said the Lions have to get back to doing the things they did earlier in the season when they were on a winning streak.
“We’ve got to get back to having fun like we did at the beginning of the season,” Adams said. “We have not been as consistent as we were early in the year.
“When we were winning we were getting the ball inside and that opened everything else up. We did a better job of that in our last two games and things seem to be falling into place.”
A positive sign for the Lions came in Saturday’s 81-77 victory at West Alabama. It was the first close game in which UNA came out with a victory since winning 74-73 at Valdosta State on Feb. 2.
“Those close games tend to even out and all of a sudden we started to lose the close ones,” junior guard Marquel Darrington said. “We didn’t do a good job taking care of the lead in some of those losses.”
Coach Bobby Champagne likes the fact that the win against West Alabama was similar to many of the close wins UNA earned earlier in the season.
“We got back to winning ugly, which is what we do,” Champagne said. “That’s how we were winning before and that’s what we need to keep doing.”
Champagne said the two wins last week gave the Lions a much-needed shot of confidence after losing three in a row.
“The guys have certainly had more bounce in their step this week at practice,” he said. “It’s tournament week and they can see a goal right in front of them. It’s hard to envision that in August when you’re up at 5:30 a.m. running sprints.”
UNA has plenty of motivation this week. The Lions again are ranked No. 8 in the South region in this week’s NCAA regional rankings. Only the top eight teams in the region after this week’s games earn a berth in the NCAA Regional.
It’s possible the Lions might need to win at least one or two games at the tournament to earn a berth in the regional. The Lions, however, don’t want to leave anything to chance.
“Our goal is the win the tournament,” Adams said. “We won’t be satisfied to with one or two wins. We want to win it and carry that momentum into the NCAA Tournament.”
While No. 6 Alabama-Huntsville is the obvious favorite, Champagne said there are a number of teams capable of getting on a roll and winning the tournament.
“The league is really tough this year and it should be a great tournament,” he said. “Some teams are playing better than others, but all eight are capable of making it to Sunday.
“Other than Christian Brothers, we’ve beaten everyone, so we certainly feel we’re got a chance. But we will have to play well because from now on it’s a one-game season.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.
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