Sole possession of second place in the Big South Conference will be on the line tonight when Winthrop entertains preseason favorite Radford.
The Eagles (15-8, 3-2 Big South) enter tonight's matchup on the heals of a double-digit win at UNC Asheville, a victory that snapped a two-game losing streak and gave Winthrop its most wins ever in NCAA Division I play. Radford (16-8, 3-2) lost to league-leading Liberty (5-0) at home the same night.
The Lady Highlanders are led by seniors Kelli Darden (12.1 points per game) and Corrie Fertitta (11.3), a pair of solid inside players who each topped the 1,000-point mark recently. Both are preseason Big South first-team selections, along with Winthrop's Ashley Fann, who has been playing some of her best basketball of the season in conference games.
Darden, who scored 31 against the Eagles in Rock Hill last season, is also the Big South's all-time leading shot-blocker with 264.
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Despite the lopsided won-loss record -- Radford leads the series 46-6 -- Winthrop has played the Lady Highlanders close at home the past two seasons, losing by a combined five points -- 68-65 at the buzzer last season and 51-49.
"There are legit reasons they were picked No. 1 in preseason," Winthrop coach Bud Childers said. "They're one of the few teams in the league that have size on the front line. They're very strong inside with Darden and Fertitta, and (Kymesha) Alston is an excellent player off the bench."
But defenses can't concentrate on the talented duo because the other three starters -- Taleia Moton, Vandy Pullen and Johnette Walker -- are all averaging double figures. All are capable of big games and each has led the team in scoring in at least one game this season.
"This is a big game for us, and I'm sure up in Radford, they're saying the same thing," Childers said.
The presence of Darden and Feritta inside might prompt Childers to alter the game plan he used in the victory over UNC Asheville. Childers decided to pound the ball inside, a strategy that saw Winthrop post players hit 24 of the team's 29 field goals.
"Teams are deciding to take the 3-point line away from us," Childers said. "That's opened the inside for us. If teams continue to do that, our perimeter players will have to continue to be patient and get the ball inside."
One player opposing teams have been concentrating on in the last three games is junior Tiffany Rodd, Winthrop's all-time leading 3-point shooter, who has had just three field goals -- two from beyond the arc -- in 16 shots the last three games.
"(UNCA) was face-guarding her all the time," Childers said. "It was like a box-and-one. We used her as a decoy and she did a very good job getting the ball inside."