It has been an up-and-down season for the USC Aiken women’s basketball team to this point this season. While the Pacers (4-11, 2-4 Peach Belt Conference) have had well-documented struggles, they’re coming off one of their best wins of the season – Saturday’s 56-50 come-from-behind win over Young Harris.


USCA will need to be clicking on all cylinders today when they return to action for a game on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. That’s because it’s playing host to No. 19 North Georgia. Tip-off is slated for 5:30 p.m. in the game at the Convocation Center.


For much of this season and the past two years, the Nighthawks (12-2, 6-1) have been led by Jaymee Carnes. Last season, the star forward was named first-team All-PBC and All-Region and two years ago she was named the Daktronics NCAA Division II National Player-of-the-Year as well as the Peach Belt Conference and Southeast Region Player-of-the-Year.


Carnes got off to another terrific start this season, averaging 20.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. But she hasn’t played since early January, suffering a knee injury in a win over Georgia College.


While any team would miss a player as dynamic as Carnes, the Nighthawks have been lifted by the performances of several other standout players. Chief among them has been Mimi Hill, another senior forward. Hill has been a stalwart throughout the season but has taken her game to another level sin Carnes’ absence. Hill’s averaging 21.7 points per game, just ahead of Carnes and third-best in the PBC. Since Carnes’ injury, Hill’s averaging more than 28 points per game and has scored more than 30 points three times.


But Hill hasn’t been a one-player show, she’s had tremendous help from the guard tandem of Stephanie Huffman and Keeley Chester. Huffman, a junior, is averaging 13.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game – placing her among the leaders in the PBC. Chester, a sophomore, is tallying 12.6 points, a team-best 3.6 assists per game and a tick less than 6 rebounds.


Crashing the boards is what the Nighthawks do better than most, and their average of 42 per game is third-best in the PBC – significantly better than the 34 they’re allowing opponents. This will be a critical area for USCA, which is dead last in the PBC with an average of 34.3 rebounds per game. The Pacers’ best hope is that they’re playing the Nighthawks at the right time.


While USCA is coming off a satisfying victory, North Georgia comes to the Convocation Center following a loss that snapped a 10-game winning streak. Three of those victories came without Carnes playing at all. But the wheels came off in Saturday’s 67-54 loss to GRU Augusta. While being held to a season low in points, North Georgia was limited to 36 percent shooting, only 32 rebounds and committed 21 turnovers.


The Pacers have to be aggressive and opportunistic today and are looking for another big-time game from Mariah Durian, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Young Harris. If they can get a revitalized effort from Porsha Martin (12.1 points, 8.2 rebounds) and continued strong effort from Mackenzie Reese (12.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists) and more contributions from Durian and the other Pacers, they have a chance to pull off the upset and send the Nighthawks to a second straight defeat. But the Pacers must be on the top of their game again to make it a possibility.


Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.


TODAY’S GAME


What: USC Aiken women’s basketball


Who: No. 19 North Georgia (12-2, 6-1) at USCA (4-11, 2-4)


Where: Convocation Center


When: 5:30 p.m.