Winthrop enters the Big South Conference women's basketball tournament today knowing the team's next loss, whenever that occurs, will be Bud Childers' final game as coach of the Lady Eagles.
A statement issued by the Winthrop athletic department late Wednesday afternoon said Winthrop Athletic Director Tom Hickman and Childers agreed on the coach stepping down. Childers will be reassigned within the athletic department for the remainder of his contract, which runs through June, according to the same statement.
Winthrop (12-17) is the No. 7 seed in the tournament. The Lady Eagles will play second-seeded Radford at 5:30 p.m. today in the first round. Radford's Tajama Abraham Ngongba was named the conference's Coach of the Year and guard Da'Naria Erwin-Spencer was a First-Team All-Conference selection.
Radford finished the regular season 14-15 overall but 11-5 in conference play. The Highlanders won the last meeting, 69-47, at the Dedmon Center in Radford, Va. The Lady Eagles won the first meeting in Rock Hill, 65-55, despite 24 points from Erwin-Spencer.
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"Radford is definitely a team on the upswing going into the tournament," Childers said in Wednesday's Big South coaches' teleconference.
Radford won four of its final five games in the regular season, including a 79-76 game at the Millis Center last week over High Point.
"Radford is one the two most-storied programs in the Big South (along with Liberty)," Childers said. "They have some veteran players. We have youngsters. We'll have to coach them up."
Winthrop limps into the tournament with five consecutive losses. The Lady Eagles are 11-50 all-time against Radford, 2-6 in Big South tournament play. You have to go back to 2004 to find the last time a No. 7 seed upset a No. 2.
Winthrop was knocked out of the conference tourney in the first round last year after a 68-65 overtime loss to High Point. Childers led the team into the second round the previous four seasons.
Ngongba expects the game, especially on a neutral floor, to be a great setting.
"I think our team is peaking at the right time," Ngongba said. "We'll need a strong defensive effort; that's our bread and butter."
The Radford coach will pay particular attention to Winthrop point guard - and Big South Freshman of the Year - Dequesha McClanahan who averaged 16.5 points in two games against her team this season.
"(McClanahan) is a very good player. She has the ability to create for her team, and, she has a great cast around her," Ngongba said.
Childers said he would not comment on leaving the team until the season has ended. That rule carried over to his players as well.
Former Winthrop women's basketball assistant coach Laquanda Dawkins, now the head coach at Southern Poly State in Marietta, Ga., said she appreciated what Childers' was able to accomplish.
"Coach Childers has made a positive contribution to the community, Winthrop University and the athletics program," she said. "Under his tutelage, the staff and players have worked hard at making Winthrop women's basketball a more respected program over the years. The foundation of the program has been laid and the young, talented team has tremendous upside to build on in the near future. The most important part is that they are good student-athletes."