Eagles thriving because of better defense

One of the biggest differences between the Winthrop women's basketball team this season and last season's disappointing campaign can be summed up in one word -- defense.

The Lady Eagles are ranked 39th nationally in points per game at 55.9 and are ranked third in the nation in field goal percentage defense at .314. Last season, the Lady Eagles scored an average of 54 points while giving up 65. Through the first 10 games, Winthrop is outscoring its opponents on the average of 61-55.

"There's no doubt that the defense is playing much better," coach Bud Childers said as he prepared for tonight's home game against Georgia State. "We were too easy to score against and we didn't guard the 3-point line very well."

So far this season, Winthrop is holding opponents to just 27 percent shooting from behind the arc.

Winthrop has held three of its opponents to 49 points or fewer. One of the best defensive performances came when the Lady Eagles beat Jacksonville -- a team averaging more than 70 points a contest -- 50-49 in the championship of the Lady Pirate Invitational at East Carolina. In that game, Ashley Haugtvedt altered a potential game-winning shot in the final seconds to preserve the victory.

A major key to the turnaround is Childers using the defense he likes more -- man-to-man. He couldn't do it last season because of a lack of depth.

"We were looking at a six-to-seven-player rotation last year, so we couldn't afford to get into foul trouble," Childers said. "We played a lot of zone and we didn't play it very aggressively.

"This year, I'd say we've played man-to-man 85 percent of the time. It's a better fit for me, and I think it's a better fit for this team."

One particular area where the Lady Eagles have stepped up is stops after turnovers. Winthrop has had a propensity for turnovers -- 211 in 10 games -- but unlike last season, the defense is getting back and preventing points, allowing only 155 so far.

"There were times when we were giving up 26 points a game off our turnovers and scoring just 14 off our opponent's," Childers said.

Even though the Lady Eagles have cut down on points after mistakes, Childers knows the Lady Eagles can't succeed averaging 20 turnovers a game.

"Our goal is 15 or less a game," he said. "If we want to be a threat in the (Big South Conference) we have to do a much better job of taking care of the basketball."

The Lady Eagles are 7-3 -- their best start as an NCAA Division I member -- and have won four of five. This despite a challenging schedule that has limited practice sessions and produced long layoffs between games.

Tonight's game against Georgia State is Winthrop's third since Dec. 2.

Georgia State comes in at 2-5 and hasn't played since a 63-60 loss to Alabama State. The Panthers are led by Brittany Hollins, a 5-foot-9 guard, and 5-11 swing player Danyiell McKellar. Both are averaging 12.6 points.

• NOTES: Fans who attend tonight's game will be able to purchase a men's ticket for the game against Old Dominion at a discount.

All tickets will be $3 -- the normal price for a youth or senior citizen -- and with each purchase, fans can buy a ticket to the men's game against Old Dominion on Dec. 21 for the group rate of just $3. Tickets on the day of the men's game will be $10 for the end court and $12 for the side court. ... After tonight, it's back on the road with games at Wichita State, George Mason, Charlotte and Longwood. Winthrop returns home Jan. 12 for a matchup with Converse, the first of three home games against in-state opposition. USC Upstate comes in Jan. 16 and Presbyterian pops up Jan. 19.