The Winthrop women's basketball team is playing better than it has all season. Winners of five straight games, the Lady Eagles have claimed sole possession of third place in the Big South Conference with six games left in the regular season.
This is the team everyone expected to see when it was picked to finish second behind Liberty in the preseason poll.
Winthrop (12-11, 6-4 BSC) faces Liberty tonight at 7 p.m. at the Vines Center.
Tiffany Rodd, Winthrop's all-time leader in career 3-pointers made, has a chance to take over the BSC lead in the same category. She needs three 3s to break that mark.
But the Vines Center hasn't been the best venue for Rodd's shooting. She was 2-for-5 on 3s as a freshman and 1-of-6 each of the last two seasons. If she doesn't break the record tonight, her next chance will come Feb. 23 at home against Gardner-Webb.
Liberty (15-7, 9-0) won the first meeting this year, a 55-51 game in which the Flames closed out the final 4:53 on a 14-4 run. Ashley Fann and Rodd, Winthrop's top two scorers, combined for six points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Winthrop is the last BSC team to beat the Flames. On Feb. 27, 2008, the Lady Eagles won 56-52. Liberty owns a commanding 35-7 lead in the all-time series.
Winthrop's five-game winning streak is second in the conference only to Liberty's 12 straight wins.
Coach Bud Childers has talked all year about the need to have two lineups for the Big South schedule -- one for Liberty and another for everyone else.
Liberty is by far the biggest team in the conference. The Flames are led by Megan Frazee, the reigning BSC player of the year.
The 6-foot-3 senior plays both guard and forward. She is equally effective in the paint and outside the 3-point arc. She missed eight games early in the season to injury but has averaged 19.9 points and 9.6 rebounds in the 14 games she has played.
She got 20 and 7 on Jan. 10 at Winthrop.
Moriah Frazee, another of the Frazee triplets, is also 6-3. Molly, the third Frazee stands 6-2. She is lost for the season with an injury.
But wait, there's more.
Avery Warley is a 6-3 redshirt freshman averaging 7.4 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. Liberty coach Carey Green has two other players with size. Kittery Maine, a sophomore, and Kylie Beecher, a freshman, are both 6-4.
The Flames have had a stranglehold on regular season and conference tournament championships. They have earned 11 NCAA tournament berths in the last 12 years.
It will be interesting to see how Childers plans for this one. His team won at Radford on Saturday afternoon, snapping a string of six straight losses to the Highlanders. The Lady Eagles opted to travel directly to Lynchburg rather than come back to Rock Hill.
His scheme will not involve 6-2 Jennifer Walker, who scored a team-high 11 against the Flames earlier this year. She and Franchesca Davenport were dismissed from the team Wednesday after being charged with shoplifting at a Rock Hill Wal-Mart.
Should Childers decide to go big, he will need significant minutes from freshman TaQuoia Hammick. The 6-3 center from St. Paul, Minn. has averaged 11 minutes of playing time the last three games.
WINTHROP (12-11, 6-4) AT LIBERTY (15-7, 9-0)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: The Vines Center
Internet: winthropeagles.com, 6:45 p.m.
Winthrop probable starters: G Yvonne van Daalen 5-9 Sr. (6.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg); G Tiffany Rodd 6-0 Sr. (8.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg); C Ashley Haugtvedt 6-2 Sr. (7.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg); F Shanice Cole 5-11 Jr. (4.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg); F Shelly Hankins 5-9 R-Jr. (2.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg).
Liberty probable starters: G Taleia Moton 5-4 So. (14.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg); G Vandy Pullen 5-9 R-Sr. (7.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg); G Johnette Walker 5-8 Sr. (10.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg); G Rachel Morris 5-8 Sr. (2.3 ppg, 0.7 rpg); F Kymesha Alston 6-0 R-Jr. (9.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg).
Notes: Winthrop's Tiffany Rodd needs three 3-pointers to become the Big South Conference's all-time leader in 3s. ... Winthrop coach Bud Childers is three victories shy of second place and six away from moving atop the school's coaching wins list. He has 54 wins to date.
• Next up: Winthrop hosts Gardner-Webb at 7 p.m. on Feb. 23.