MACON, Georgia (MERCER ATHLETICS) - Fourteen home games and match-ups against SEC power Georgia and Big Ten member Wisconsin highlight the 2013-14 Mercer women's basketball schedule released by head coach Susie Gardner on Friday morning.
In total, Mercer will take the court against a minimum of six teams that participated in postseason play last season, including at least a pair of contests against programs that participated in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
"I am really excited about our schedule we have assembled this season from top to bottom," Gardner said. "Our non-conference schedule will challenge us with teams from different conferences so if and when we make it to postseason play it helps us prepare for different playing styles."
Following a home exhibition against NAIA member Northwood on Oct. 31, Mercer officially opens its 2013-14 season against Western Carolina in Hawkins Arena on Nov. 8.
The Bears then hit the road for a pair of road games at Belmont on Nov. 11 and Georgia on Nov. 14. Belmont was 18-14 last season and earned a berth in the Women's Basketball Invitational while Georgia posted a 28-7 mark and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the 11th time in program history.
After a pair of home games against Troy on Nov. 19 and Furman on Nov. 24, Mercer travels up to Nashville to take part in the Vanderbilt Thanksgiving Tournament. The Bears take on Big Ten member Wisconsin in the opening round on Nov. 29 while Vanderbilt will take on Elon in the other first-round game. The consolation and championship games will be played the very next day on Nov. 30.
"We have not played in a regular season tournament since I have been here at Mercer and we actually weren't supposed to play in one this year, but I am good friends with the head coach at Vanderbilt (Melanie Balcomb) and knew being from there they always have a Thanksgiving Tournament," said Gardner. "I felt like this was a good idea for our players to participate in this event just to get use to a tournament setting and also to go up against some great teams and face some very difficult competition."
Once Mercer comes back home for a tilt against in-state rival Georgia Southern on Dec. 4, the Bears conclude their non-conference schedule with a three-game road trip in the state of Alabama. The Orange and Black start their road swing against Samford on Dec. 7, followed by Jacksonville State on Dec. 17 and capped off with a contest against Alabama State on Dec. 20.
Following a 12-day lay-off for the holidays, the Bears open Atlantic Sun Conference play with a pair of home tilts against North Florida on Jan. 2 and Jacksonville on Jan. 4.
After a pair of road games at Northern Kentucky on Jan. 9 and Lipscomb on Jan. 11, Mercer gears up for a huge home weekend as it faces off against Stetson on Jan. 16 and Florida Gulf Coast on Jan. 18. Stetson won a school-record 24 games last season and won the A-Sun Championship for the second time in three years while FGCU finished with a 27-6 record and No. 52 ranking in the RPI.
Other highlights on the Orange and Black's conference slate include a three-game home stand featuring games against in-state rival Kennesaw State on Feb. 1, Northern Kentucky on Feb. 6 and Lipscomb on Feb. 8.
"Once again we fully expect the A-Sun Conference schedule will be very competitive and intense every Thursday and Saturday we take the court," said Gardner.
The 2014 Atlantic Sun Championship, which will be played from March 11-16, has switched formats and now features a "higher-seed" model that will be utilized on campus sites for all three rounds of competition.
The Bears do have plenty of talent returning to Macon this winter as four starters, including A-Sun All-Conference first team selections Precious Bridges and Kendra Grant, and 75 percent of their scoring are back in the fold for the upcoming 2013-14 season.