A very familiar opponent awaits the North Alabama women today as the Lions open up play in the NCAA South Regional in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The Lions (20-10), the No. 6 seed in the regional, face No. 3 seed Delta State (19-9) today at 11 a.m. on the campus of Nova Southeastern University. It will be the third meeting of the season between the Gulf South Conference rivals, with the Lions sweeping the two regular season games.
Despite the two losses to UNA, Delta State won the regular season GSC title with UNA finishing second among eligible teams.
"This is the game we expected to have in the GSC Tournament championship," coach Terry Fowler said. "We didn't get to play there, so we'll play at the regional. To advance in the regional you'll always have to beat Delta State at some point."
Both teams were upset in the semifinals of last week's conference tournament. UNA lost to West Alabama and Delta State fell to eventual tournament champions Alabama-Huntsville.
"We were disappointed with the way we played at the tournament," said junior forward Nichelle Fillmore, who ranks second on the team in scoring at 11.2 points per game. "We've got a second chance now and we're going to play it like it is our last game."
Delta State is led by sophomore center Seneca Walton (13.1 ppg., 7.9 rpg.), freshman guard Chelsey Rhodes (12.1 ppg.) and sophomore forward Rhandi Ball (11.6 ppg., 7.4 rpg.).
Today's game figures to be a defensive battle. UNA leads the GSC in scoring defense, allowing 54.7 points per game, while Delta State is second at 55.9 points per game.
While Delta State has not been the dominant team this season it has been in the past, Fowler said the Statesmen are still a threat to make it to the Elite Eight.
"They are still Delta State," he said. "They still have a lot of pride and they are proven winners. Ball and Walton are as good as anybody in our conference, and you have to know where Rhodes is at all times.
"We know each other well, so there will not be a lot of adjustments by either team. It will come down to which team rebounds and executes what they do."
Today's winner will face the winner of the UAH-Tuskegee game. UNA is familiar with both teams, having swept two games from UAH, while losing its season opener to Tuskegee.
For the UNA players, however, there is no looking ahead.
"All we are thinking about is Delta State," said junior forward Mekena Randle, who leads UNA in scoring (11.4 ppg.) and rebounding (9.2 rpg.). "We have to take it one game at a time and play with UNA heart."
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.