It didn’t feel like just another game in the locker room Tuesday night. Anyone who walked in on the Lady Bulldogs wouldn’t notice the typically laid back Jada Smith seeming to be a little tenser, but they couldn’t miss the restless bounce of Tiara Caldwell’s knee.
“Alright, let’s pray,” Mark Campbell, head coach, said as he entered the locker room the same way he always does. The Lady Bulldogs all stood up, met in the middle of the locker room, bowed their heads and instantly knew it was game time.
As Campbell and the team finished going over the scouting report one last time, he recalled his freshman year at Lipscomb University playing with seniors.
“We were all on the line running sprints,” Campbell said. “And the seniors started yelling to the coach, ‘Bring it!’ I’d never been around teammates that wanted more pain and welcomed adversity.”
Campbell made an emphasis on stepping up to the challenge and being excited to play basketball one more day. He knew University of West Georgia was not going to be an easy win, and he was preparing his team to welcome the adversity they were about to face on the court.
The Lady Bulldogs, who are known for their 3-point shooting, could not shoot their way out of West Georgia’s 2-3 zone in the first half Tuesday night. Though West Georgia never had a huge lead on the Lady Bulldogs, they could not get ahead of the Lady Wolves. With a frustrating first half for seniors Kelsey Risner and Chelsea Bodiford, who are typically lights out from behind the arc, freshman Jada Perkins stepped up and finished the half with a step-back 3-pointer to end the quarter 20-20.
An uneasy feeling lay upon the gym like a blanket during half time. A concerned look was evident on the faces of boosters, parents and students that their 26 and 2 team may fall in the first round of the conference tournament.
“We had to adjust at time with Tiara being out,” Bodiford, junior exercise science major, said. “We struggled especially in the first half, but we continued to fight and we were able to pull out a win in a game that didn’t feel so good.”
West Georgia scored the first seven points of the third quarter and finally after the first five minutes and 40 seconds, senior Kelsey Risner scored on a put back. Risner’s put back and Bodiford’s two 3’s following, told the crowd there was nothing to worry about. The girls had taken to heart Campbell’s speech before the game and were pressing in.
Risner finished the game with a double-double and Bodiford put in 14 points, 12 of those from the second half. Though it wasn’t pretty, the Lady Bulldogs defeated the Lady Wolves 60-55. Union will be traveling to Samford University in Birmingham to play #5 seed Lee University Friday at noon to determine who will play in the championship game Saturday at 1 p.m.
If the women’s game didn’t give anyone a heart attack, the men’s game was definitely not a game for the faint of heart. As students started filing into the student section of the Fred Delay Gymnasium, the anxious air became even more obvious. Though #3 seeded Bulldogs were playing #6 seeded Valdosta State, it seemed like déjà vu from the last time the Bulldogs played Valdosta in Georgia with the same unusual turnovers from every Bulldog and an inability to get a stop on defense.
Much like the women’s game before, Union did a fair job of swapping baskets with Valdosta and trailed 34-31 at the half. Though Union’s Ashanti Day hit a three to start the second half, Valdosta made a quick 7-0 run to ruin any recollection of encouraging remarks said in the locker room during halftime.
It seemed like the men were in the same locker room the women were in earlier that evening as determination flashed across each player’s face and the will to win became evident.
The Bulldogs were at home with a huge crowd and a fraternity boy running up and down the sidelines yelling “Let’s go!” and waving a huge, red Union flag the size of the American Flag hanging in the gym. The Bulldogs weren’t losing this one.
Union began to make defensive stops and capitalize on the other end with points. Valdosta got into foul trouble at the end, and Union drained their free throws. Things started going Union’s way when senior Roy Bollock hit Jordan Montgomery on a back door pass and Ashanti Day stole the ball shortly after. With 26 seconds left the score was 72-71 when KC Goodwin was fouled and hit both of his free throws. Right after Day intercepted a long pass, was fouled, and made both of his free throws. With another steal at half court from Goodwin with 12 seconds left in the ball game, Union knew they had won.
“I am so proud of our players,” Assistant Coach Trevor Lydic said. “We had to overcome a lot of adversity, and we hung in there together. It was a total team win and a lesson in perseverance.”
Though three players on the men’s team had more than 20 points, it was still a hard fought victory for the Bulldogs. The men’s next game will be at Samford University Friday at 5 p.m. against #2 seed West Georgia.
Tuesday night was a good win for the Bulldogs, but they will face an even tougher opponent this weekend.
“West Georgia is arguably the deepest and most talented team in the league,” Lydic said. “We are excited about the opportunity and challenge.”