What must Diana Choibekova have been thinking as the crowd at Winthrop Coliseum chanted her name Saturday afternoon? She’d just buried her 10th 3-pointer of the game, tying a career high with 33 points and pushing Winthrop to the 100-point mark for the first time ever against a Division I foe. It was a Senior Day that could seemingly only happen in fantasies, right?
“That has to be like the best Senior Day ever,” Choibekova said afterward, shaking her head.
Junior guard Dequesha McClanahan had a pretty good day too, scoring 31 points, as Winthrop’s two best players led the Eagles (20-10, 14-4 Big South) to a 100-56 bashing of the hapless UNC Asheville Bulldogs (2-27, 0-18).
Kevin Cook’s squad racked up 21 steals, a season-high for the team, and scored 48 points off turnovers, ruthlessly capitalizing on every one of the visitors’ miscues. Winthrop incessantly hounded the visitors, losers of 20 straight games, with high-pressure defense that led to a flood of easy layups. After the first couple steals, Bulldog blood was in the water.
“Everyone tries to pitch in,” said McClanahan, the Big South’s leading scorer. “We take more risks.”
Cook hastened to add, “I don’t think UNC Asheville played that poorly; we just played really good. We shot the ball very, very well, throughout the entire game,” to the tune of 53 percent from the floor and 54 percent from 3-point territory.
Eagle freshman Schaquilla Nunn added a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds and fellow rookie Aliyah Kilpatrick chipped in 15. McClanahan had eight steals and seven assists to go with her season-high scoring effort, and Choibekova contributed five steals and four assists.
The damage was done early. The Eagles scored 24 points off turnovers in the game’s first 20 minutes, a good chunk of those coming from Choibekova 3-pointers in transition. She dropped 19 of her 33 in the first half, after a pregame ceremony where she was recognized by the crowd alongside her parents and junior college coach.
Of Choibekova’s 19 first half points, 16 came in the first eight minutes. Her 2-pointer while drawing a foul put the Eagles up 23-11 with 12 minutes remaining in the first frame. She then fed Taylor Calvert on a backdoor cut with a sweet dish, before burying another trifecta off of a Calvert steal to increase the Eagles’ lead to 35-15. The Eagles made 8 of 14 3-point tries in the first half.
Choibekova’s bucket was part of a 20-6 run that slammed the brakes on any Asheville ideas of ruining the Eagles’ Senior Day celebration. Everyone was contributing for Winthrop; Tiffany Charles picked a ball handler’s pocket for an easy layup before Christina Solmon stepped off the bench to hit a turnaround jumper, and of course McClanahan was never going to be left out of a scoring fest. She dropped in a three before blowing past her defender and flicking the ball up and in while drawing a foul.
But the lasting memory will be Choibekova’s performance. Perhaps it was playing in front of her parents in Rock Hill for the first time, or seeing her orchestration of the team’s Harlem Shake played on the video board before the game. Whatever the source of her focus, Cook wants a repeat next week.
“I know one thing,” he said, “every game we play from here on out is Senior Night.”
NOTE: Samiya Wright sat out Saturday, another benefit of Winthrop’s blowout. Wright, a 5-foot-8 sophomore guard, averages close to nine points but has been hampered by an ankle injury of late. The Eagles have a first round bye in this week’s tournament in Myrtle Beach, giving Wright potentially four or five full days of recovery, before the Eagles face the winner of Longwood and Charleston Southern in the second round on Thursday at noon.
ASHEVILLE (56): Manley 7-14 6-6 20, Blaylock 4-12 0-0 11, Riles 2-6 2-2 6, Love 2-4 0-0 5, Buckner 2-9 0-0 4, Sickles 3-6 0-0 6, McGirt 2-3 0-0 4, Smith 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 22-56 8-8 56.
WINTHROP (100): Choibekova 11-23 1-1 33, McClanahan 13-24 2-2 31, Kilpatrick 6-12 2-2 15, Nunn 4-7 2-4 10, Calvert 2-3 1-4 5, Charles 2-4 0-0 4, Solmon 1-1 0-0 2, Porter 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 39-74 8-13 100.
3-pointers: Asheville 4-16 (Blaylock 3), Winthrop 14-26 (Choibekova 10). Rebounds: Asheville 30 (Manley 9), Winthrop 40 (Nunn 12). Assists: Asheville 14 (Love 6), Winthrop 19 (McClanahan 7). A-468.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T