ESPN’s delivery may have been a little wonky but it mattered little to the Winthrop women’s basketball team and its supporters Monday night.
Kevin Cook’s Eagles learned that their first ever NCAA Tournament berth will afford them a visit to Duke University’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils will host Winthrop Saturday at 11 a.m., in the 2014 tournament’s first game.
“I think it was hard for them to understand until they got here and saw the crowd and how many people actually care about them,” said Winthrop head coach Kevin Cook. “And then they see their name flash up on the screen ... we’re just thrilled and they’re very happy.”
Winthrop (24-8) earned the No. 15 seed in the Lincoln portion of the tournament bracket. The Eagles’ Big South Conference Tournament championship victory on March 9 sets up a meeting with Duke (27-6), which lost to Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament championship game on the same day.
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The matchup was revealed perhaps a little prematurely by ESPN producers, who unveiled the pairing while discussing a first round game in a higher part of the bracket. The Duke-Winthrop game was little discussed, but the Eagle players seated in the first row in the Richardson Ballroom of the DiGiorgio Center didn’t seem to mind.
“I didn’t care if they were talking about us or not,” said Winthrop senior guard Tiffany Charles with a big smile. “As long as I’d seen it, it mattered.”
Notre Dame, Connecticut, South Carolina and Tennessee claimed the tournament’s No. 1 seeds. At the other end of the spectrum, South Dakota, North Dakota and Akron join Winthrop in making their tournament debuts this weekend.
“For us, making history is a big accomplishment,” said senior guard Dequesha McClanahan. “I’m very proud of where we have come, and what we have accomplished this year.”
“We’ve been waiting a week now to see who we’d play and now I’m sure we’re gonna be excited as we prepare,” said Cook.
That week off came at a crucial time for the Eagles. After winning the conference title over High Point eight days ago, the team took several days off to recuperate, the first such break since the beginning of the season.
“I can honestly say that when we got back from the tournament we were dead-dog tired,” said McClanahan. “We could barely make it through practice. But I feel like we got our legs under us and we’re just excited that we play on Saturday and that we finally know who we play. Saturday, I feel like our adrenaline is going to be working and we’ll forget all about the pain and how bad our legs feel by the end of the day.”
Cook’s team held an intersquad scrimmage today as it begins to ramp up preparations. The reality is settling on Winthrop’s women’s basketball team. Monday night’s selection show screening truly hammered home the task before them.
“I had the butterflies and everything going on,” said senior guard Tiffany Charles, “and then right when I saw our name, I was like, ‘it’s real.’”