The Winthrop women's basketball team's "mini-season" is over, presumably. The Lady Eagles played the first six games of the year down three players due to indefinite suspensions handed down by coach Bud Childers.
Childers coined the term following the Nov. 11 suspensions (due to a violation of team rules) of starting small forward Franchesca Davenport, starting center Jennifer Walker and key reserve Shanice Cole. He said Monday he hoped to make the players eligible early in the week. As of Saturday afternoon, there had been no official announcement.
No one knows for sure if Winthrop could have done better than its 3-3 start with a roster at full-strength, but the Lady Eagles start anew at 2 p.m. today against winless George Mason.
"It could've been different, but we've earned what we've got," Childers said.
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Throw out the first game of the year, a 61-40 loss to Davidson just four days after the suspensions.
"We were all unable to make the adjustments. Since then we have given good effort, learned from it and will be better because of it," Childers said.
Davenport, Walker and Cole combined to average 15.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game last year. Childers said he sensed a different energy and excitement in practice this week with the impending end of the suspensions.
The game has several feel-good factors in store.
First off, having a full roster available for the first time since the 2007-08 season ended will be a relief for Childers and his staff. Jessica Fansler has filled in nicely and seems to have gained a ton of confidence in a starting role.
Secondly, senior shooting guard Tiffany Rodd will be honored prior to the game. She became the 13th women's player in school history to reach 1,000 career points last weekend in the Xavier Thanksgiving Tournament in Cincinnati.
Rodd, a 6-footer from Clinton, Tenn., has been playing with a high ankle sprain. Childers talked this week about the possibility of limiting her minutes or even shutting her down to give the injury a chance to fully heal.
With the postponement of Winthrop's Dec. 13 game at Georgia State (moved to Jan. 27), Rodd could miss just one game and have 18 days off. She played in the Nov. 30 game vs. UT-Martin and may not play again until the Dec. 18 date with Georgia Tech in the Bahamas Sunsplash Shootout.
She is the second-leading scorer on the team averaging 10 points per contest. Senior power forward Ashley Fann leads the Big South in rebounding (9.2 rpg) and is second is scoring (15.2 ppg).
Also, fans can bring an unwrapped toy to donate to Toys For Tots and in return will receive a free ticket to the game. Each year, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation relies on the donations of the American public and its corporate partners to deliver gifts to children.
George Mason (0-7), out of the Colonial Athletic Conference, has had trouble winning and scoring. The Patriots are last in the CAA in scoring (50.7 ppg), scoring margin (-18.1), field goal percentage (.310) and 3-point field goal defense (.431). They are one of just a handful of DI women's programs in the country still searching for a mark in the win column.
The Patriots lost by 29 points to Richmond and UMBC. They also lost at Big South member High Point, 66-55, on Monday.
But don't expect Childers to take this game lightly. The teams met last year and George Mason won 67-56. It was one of Winthrop's poorest games of the year. The Lady Eagles committed 25 turnovers, leading to 27 Patriot points. Davenport and Fann fouled out.
The Patriots are coached by Jeri Porter, a name very familiar to Childers. Porter arrived at George Mason after spending six years at the helm of the Radford women's basketball program. She compiled a 93-85 record (43-39 Big South) and led the Highlanders to a WNIT berth last year.
Coincidentally, Porter was replaced at Radford by George Mason assistant coach Tajama Ngongba.