Columbus State teams ready for Peach Belt Conference semifinals

Coaches and players often use the phrase "one game at a time" to describe the focus of their teams. It is so common that it's put into the category of overused sports cliches.

Columbus State women's basketball coach Jonathan Norton promises, however, that it's more than just coach speak. His team really, positively, truly isn't looking beyond Saturday.

"It's not coach talk," he said. "They really take it one game at a time. I just got through answering the question, 'How many games do we play this weekend?' They only know that we play Saturday. They tell me, 'Coach, you tell me where we play and when we play, and I'll be there.' "

The where and when is the easy part. Both the CSU men and women will play semifinal games in the Peach Belt Conference tournament on Saturday in Pembroke, N.C. The men will face Young Harris (8:30 p.m.), while the women draw South Carolina-Aiken (1 p.m.).

The how is a little bit more challenging.

On the men's side, the Cougars have already faced Young Harris twice, splitting the regular season series with each team winning its home game. Young Harris (13-13, 9-10) is led by Isaiah Johnson, who scored 40 points in the previous meeting between the two teams, an 85-80 loss for the Cougars.

Columbus State coach Robert Moore pointed to his matchup with Cougars leader Kenney Funderburk as the biggest head-to-head matchup in the game.

"He can light it up," Moore said of Johnson. "He scored 40 on us last time. I think it's imperative that we try to contain him a little better this time."

And he's not the only one. Moore praised Young Harris' ability to penetrate the lane and score in transition. CSU, he said, would have to be quick in getting back on defense, or it will be vulnerable against the opposition's guard-heavy attack.

"I think that's where they really hurt you," he said. "They can shoot the three-point shot really well, too. We just have to make sure we contain them on the three-point line, stop penetration and stop them in transition, and we'll be fine. We've got to use our big guys on the inside because that's been our advantage all year long."

Likewise, the women will face an Aiken team that can light it up from beyond the arc, as well. Aiken averages nearly seven three-point makes per game, a number that goes significantly higher in its wins.

"When they win, they hit like 10 3s a game," Norton said. "They spot shoot the ball well and they're big inside. Defensively, we have to chase them off the three-point line."

Norton also announced earlier this week that sophomore post Ashley Asouzu would not be able to play in Saturday's game due to concussion-like symptoms brought on by a collision in Sunday's game and aggravated in a subsequent car accident on Tuesday.

Her absence is a notable loss because of Aiken's interior ability. Norton said his team would have to compensate by limiting the opportunities for Aiken's Mackenzie Reese to get inside.

"She's bigger and more physical," he said. "If she can shoot it, it makes her really difficult to guard. Michelle (Mitchell) will have to stay out of foul trouble."

That's a given. Mitchell has been the leader for the Lady Cougars all year, averaging 20 points per game. As she goes, so goes the team.

And both the men's and women's teams are hoping they go the distance.

"Our goal all year was to win the Peach Belt regular season and we came up short on that," Moore said. "One of our other goals was to win the Peach Belt tournament, so we have a chance to do that now. I think their confidence level is up. You always want to be a champion. Right now, we've got two games left to do that."

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