After almost a month of banging on each other in practice, Winthrop's women's basketball team gets its first real shot at someone else tonight, when it opens the season against North Texas State at the Winthrop Coliseum.
The game, which tips at 7 p.m., is part of the three-day adidas Classic.
In today's first game, Rice takes on Navy at 5. There will be six games over three days, with the teams swapping opponents. Winthrop plays Navy on Saturday and Rice on Sunday.
Winthrop opened the season in a similar event last year, beating Memphis in its opener then losing to Louisville and Dayton that started what turned out to be a disappointing 6-26 season.
Coach Bud Childers hopes playing three games at home will help jumpstart a better year.
"All the players are anxious to get started," Childers said. "We've scrimmaged Gardner-Webb and Elon and the players kind of got into that mode of 'who do we play next.' They're getting into that mindset.
"They're anxious to get it going and see what lies ahead."
This weekend's field will be challenging, especially the Mean Green from North Texas. Coach Tina Slinker returns a veteran team expected to better last year's 9-20 mark. North Texas has been picked to finish third in the Sun Belt Conference West Division.
Five starters return and Slinker has added point guard Yari Escalera, a transfer who played two seasons at Colorado.
"They're athletic and attack the rim," Childers said. "They've got four pretty good guards and their three best big kids from last year are back. Our players have to understand we're not going to be able to just roll the ball out and secure a win."
Childers said North Texas could be one of those teams that "surprises people as the year goes on."
He hopes the same for his team, which comes into the opener healthy and anxious.
Childers expects to start juniors Ashley Fann, Tiffany Rodd, Franchesca Davenport, Yvonne van Daalen and Jennifer Walker. Walker, a 6-2 center, is a junior college transfer.
Earlier in the week, it looked like Fann would not be available. Her great grandmother passed away in Hazel Green, Ala. But the family scheduled a service for Thursday and plans to be in town tonight to support Fann.
Walker missed practice last week following the death of her grandmother and assistant coach Jodi Davis lost her grandmother on Wednesday.
"It's been unreal," Childers said.
With three games in three days, Childers expects to use a lot of players, including returnees Ashley Haugtvedt, Jessica Fansler and Shanice Cole. Fansler was the team's leading scorer in the Elon scrimmage and Cole, a 5-11 sophomore, has been the surprise of preseason practice.
"Three games in three days is tough," Childers said, "but we've been training with that in mind. We've got a little more depth than last year, so we're going to give a lot of players a chance to see what it's all about."
Childers said he's particulary interested in getting a look at his defense and how his team handles the ball, after averaging more than 20 turnovers per game last year.
"With this field, we're going to get something different every night out," Childers said.