FLORENCE — A lot has changed in the past week for the North Alabama men.
Entering last week the Lions still had a decent shot at winning the Gulf South Conference regular season title. They were also almost a sure thing to make the field for the NCAA Regional after being ranked No. 4 in the first regional rankings of the season.
But back-to-back losses to Shorter and Alabama-Huntsville changed things dramatically. UNA (17-7, 10-6 GSC) now appears almost a lock to finish third in the GSC and is ranked No. 8 in the latest regional rankings.
With just the top eight teams making the regional the Lions have no room for error as they host West Georgia (8-16, 5-11) tonight.
“It’s a similar situation to what we were in a few years ago,” coach Bobby Champagne said. “But we can’t get caught up worrying about all of that stuff. We just have to focus on beating West Georgia and putting ourselves in the best possible position.”
UNA has lost three in a row and four of its last five entering tonight’s game. Suddenly the close games that the Lions seemed to find a way to win are slipping away.
“Even when we were winning the close games we still had some of the same problems we’re having now,” Champagne said. “We still have issues executing our offense, taking care of the ball, rebounding and we need to guard better. But in two of our past three games we had a chance to win and didn’t finish.”
UAH has clinched the regular season championship. UNA’s only hope of finishing second is to win its final two games and for Christian Brothers to lose its final two. The Lions need one win or a Valdosta State loss to clinch the No. 3 seed for next week’s GSC Tournament.
“Winning the regular season title is out of the picture, so we just need to finish as high as possible,” Champagne said. “It’s our senior night as well, so this game is still very important for us.”
The UNA women also fell in the regional rankings, dropping from No. 4 to No. 6 after going 1-1 last week.
With first-place Union not eligible for the GSC Tournament, UNA (17-9, 10-6) still has a shot at earning the No. 1 seed. The Lions trail Delta State by one game but own the tie-breaker advantage after sweeping the Statesmen.
A win tonight against West Georgia (15-9, 9-7) would clinch at least the No. 2 seed for the Lions.
“Our kids know what is at stake,” coach Terry Fowler said. “We want to finish first or second to have an extra day of rest at the tournament. We also need to win to try to move up in the region, so it’s a very important game.”
West Georgia beat the Lions 69-55 in the first meeting of the season. Fowler said the Lions have to do a better job shooting and keeping the Wolves off the offensive boards tonight.
“They did a good job sagging in the post in the first game and that has become a pattern for how to play us,” Fowler said. “The key for us is to stay aggressive. When we do that we’re usually fine.
“It’s also our senior night, so we want to send our seniors off with a win. We’ve had great fan support all year, so I expect it to be another great atmosphere to play in.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.