Newcomers Mazique, West lead surging Valley into ASU

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 1, 2006

ITTA BENA &8212; Mississippi Valley head coach Nate Kilbert may have never second-guessed himself when he moved former Natchez High guard Karmethia Mazique to point guard just after conference started.

But just for good measure, the little girl with the big heart and no fears reaffirmed the decision. With Alcorn holding a two-point lead with under 15 seconds left, she drove the lane and knocked down a layup to send the game into overtime.


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Right decision.

Mazique and the Devilettes will try it again Saturday when they come to Alcorn for a 5:30 p.m. tipoff.

&8220;Mazique has been way better than I thought she was going to play,&8221; Kilbert said. &8220;Mazique has been a big spark for us. I don&8217;t think she&8217;s doing things people thought she could do. She&8217;s really amazed me with the things she&8217;s done this year. She hit that shot with them all over her. How she did it, I don&8217;t know. She&8217;s been amazing.&8221;

Mazique, along with Christen West, another former Natchez High guard, have been pivotal this season in changing Valley&8217;s women&8217;s basketball program from one that didn&8217;t receive much of a second thought from opponents to one that&8217;s becoming respected.

Mazique took over the point position from West, who moved over to shooting guard, and the Devilettes have caught fire in the SWAC. They&8217;re tied for third at 7-4 and will try for the first season sweep of Alcorn in six years and only the second since the 1989-90 season.

The key? It&8217;s been the newcomers, Kilbert pointed out.

&8220;She was playing 30 minutes a night,&8221; said West, the team&8217;s best free-throw shooter. &8220;I guess coach looked at her stats and realized she&8217;s playing this much, we might as well start her. She handles things extremely well. She&8217;s very mature. But she was fine either way. She&8217;s used to playing in both situations.&8221;

The two have come up big in conference, especially after the team lost two points guards, including returning starter Latecha &8220;Sparky&8221; Smith to a knee injury. Mazique leads the team in assists with 61 with West second with 59, and West is second on the team in steals with 46 with Mazique third with 34.

West is second in the conference in free throws (45 of 56) and amond the leaders in 3-point shooting (26 of 78).

Former Ferriday standout LaShawna Pryor left the team just before the regular season, Kilbert said.

&8220;I just waited for my time,&8221; Mazique said. &8220;I respected Coach Kilbert. He&8217;s an excellent coach. My job has always come easy. All I&8217;ve got to do is find the open man. I wouldn&8217;t trade it for nothing. Christen is doing her job, and her defense has improved. She&8217;s shooting well and playing good defense.&8221;

The guard tandem from Natchez High have given the team balance with an inside game with leading scorer and rebounder Portia Wilson, and they&8217;re key reasons why Valley is not only in the top half of the standings but has been in every ball game but one in conference.

The Devilettes lost at the end to Southern, Jackson and Alabama State while losing by 24 at Alabama A&M.; And they&8217;re 3-1 on the road so far in conference.

&8220;This is the first time I&8217;ve ever been to the point where I tell my radio man I can&8217;t wait to get on the road,&8221; Kilbert said. &8220;At Jackson State, we blew it. We went on the road and won by 12 at Alabama State. We&8217;ve been playing better on the road. I think we&8217;re more focused. There are so many distractions playing at home, and you get caught up with the hype of the crowd. I think we should be 10-1.&8221;

And it&8217;s been a long road to get there for the longtime Alcorn assistant coach. The Devilettes have struggled in Kilbert&8217;s past years there but are on pace for the first winning record in conference since his arrival in 2001-02.

Last year&8217;s 9-9 mark in conference was their best to date.

&8220;I&8217;ve watched him over the five years he&8217;s been away,&8221; ASU head coach Shirley Walker said. &8220;He takes his time, and he does everything he can to pull in talent. If everything is not there, he finds a way to get everything out of a player. He does a lot of teaching, and the kdis seem to respond to him.

&8220;We&8217;re going to be playing one of the best coaches in the conference. We&8217;re going to have our work cut out for us Saturday.&8221;

Walker had a good indication of Kilbert&8217;s club last season when team won at Alcorn for the first time &8212; against the eventual SWAC champions &8212; while suiting up only eight players. If anything, that win showed his players anything is possible and nothing is ever as hard as it seems.

&8220;People say it&8217;s homecoming, but it&8217;s never homecoming unless I&8217;m going down there to watch a game,&8221; Kilbert said. &8220;But I enjoy going down there. I really do. I think the win showed our kids we could win there. At one point we really didn&8217;t feel we had a chance to win down there.&8221;

West could see the difference, despite having to drive her truck to the game while sitting out the season following her transfer from Texas State. She wouldn&8217;t miss coming down close to home, but now it&8217;s different. She&8217;s playing a game the closest ever to her hometown, and the team doesn&8217;t feel like it&8217;s such an uphill battle to win at Alcorn.

&8220;It was pretty big,&8221; West said. &8220;It may not be intimidating to play there. To me, I&8217;ve never played them. But it&8217;s going to be a home game for me. I think every team respects us now. There was a time when they said Valley was an automatic win.&8221;

Mazique is also looking forward to the opportunity. A win would be huge. And both should have a vocal cheering section.

&8220;I&8217;m ecstatic,&8221; Mazique said. &8220;I can look at the fact that all my family can get to see me play. To me, it&8217;s one of the biggest games of my career. It&8217;s also a big game because we&8217;re trying to get that first place in the SWAC. This will give us the edge. We need this win.&8221;