Fann leads Eagles into semifinals

Winthrop's Ashley Fann looks for a way around Charleston Southern's Crystal Robinson.
Winthrop's Ashley Fann looks for a way around Charleston Southern's Crystal Robinson.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Any coach will take what the Winthrop Eagles gave coach Bud Childers on Friday in the opening round of the Big South Conference Women's Basketball Tournament.

In the first 20 minutes of their game against Charleston Southern at UNC Asheville's 1,100-seat Justice Center, Childers' Eagles might have played their best half of basketball all season.

They raced to a 41-20 lead by the break on the way to a 76-41 victory. It was Winthrop's 20th win of the season, a school record for the women's team and also for the conference. For the first time in BSC history, the league has three teams with 20 or more wins.

The Eagles moved to 20-11, Liberty is 26-3 and Radford 22-10. But more important, Winthrop secured a spot in today's semifinal round.

Winthrop, making it third straight appearance in the semifinals and the third seed, plays No. 2 seed Radford, a 72-64 double-overtime winner against UNC Asheville on Friday, in tonight's second game at 8:30.

"I was basically most impressed with our team tonight," Childers said. "And I was impressed at how hard everybody played today. We learned last week in our loss to UNC Asheville that we have to come ready to play.

"All of the top seeds advanced today. I though it would come down to us and Radford in the semifinals. I bragged on the BSC earlier this week in our teleconference. I feel we have three teams that can play in the (NCAA) tournament, but we'll talk about that Sunday."

The Eagles wasted little time getting started in the opener. The crowd was still buzzing about UNC Asheville's near upset and was greeted by a fired-up Winthrop team that refused to apply the brakes.

Winthrop started the game with a 10-1 run and never looked back the rest of the way. The Lady Buccaneers cut the lead in half on a couple of baskets by junior guard Pam Tolbert, but the Eagles treated it as more of a tease than a threat.

Fann hit a couple of baskets sandwiched around a short jumper by Tiffany Rodd and the Eagles went up 16-5 and never trailed the entire game.

Winthrop shot 56 percent from the field in the opening and 48.5 percent for the game. No Eagle was hotter than Fann, who nailed 11-of-14 shots from the field and led all scorers with 24 points.

The Eagles also owned the boards, out-rebounding the Lady Bucs 51-27. Fann also led everyone in the category, with 14 boards.

"I'd have to say the first half tonight was our best of the season," said Fann, a 6-foot junior forward. "We came out ready to play. We've started off slow in our last few games, but we started fast tonight mostly because we were hitting our shots and playing good defense."

Charleston Southern (8-22) was unable to regroup and its offensive attack basically was carried by Tolbert. It seemed like she scored every other Lady Bucs basket because she was all over the floor, but she had only 19 points and was the lone player on her team in double figures.

"We executed and ran our plays, got good looks," Tolbert said. "But Winthrop played hard and we couldn't keep up with them."

Childers' biggest fear was whether his team keep up the pace it set in the first half in the second. Although Winthrop's shooting percentage dipped and at times the Lady Eagles were sloppy handling the ball, the answer was yes because of their defense and ownership of the boards.

A key player was Winthrop backup center Ashley Haugtvedt, Fann's high school teammate in Hazel Green, Ala. Haugtvedt tied her career best for points with 18. She drained 8-of-11 field goal attempts.

"We talked about keeping it up at the half," Haugtvedt said. "Coach told us not to let up and give them (Charleston Southern) hope."

There was not hope for the Lady Bucs. They didn't pass go and didn't have a get-out-of-jail card as the Eagles kept pounding away in the second half.

Winthrop's lead grew to 64-32 late in the second half and the Eagles sent press row to the tournament record book with their 35-point margin of victory in the quarterfinals.

Not this time, but Winthrop was involved. That record belongs to Liberty, which beat Winthrop by 47, 83-36 in 2005. But these Eagles are Bud Childers', and things have changed.

"(Today) is going to be a big day for the Big South Conference," he said. "We have four teams left with their sights set on a championship."

n NOTES: High Point (15-14) got 15 points from guard Jurica Hargraves in the opening game and defeated Coastal Carolina (16-12) 62-51.

High Point advanced to today's semifinal round and play regular-season champion and No. 1 seed Liberty at 6 p.m.

n ALMOST: Last year's tournament winner and host UNC Asheville (12-18) had the fans in the Justice Center on their feet.

The Lady Bulldogs suffered through an injury-plagued season dressed only seven players in tournament's second game. The took second-seeded Radford (22-10) two overtimes before falling 72-64.

n TV: Today's semifinal games will be carried on SportSouth.

You can tune in and watch on Rock Hill cable channel 32.