Lady Eagles look to make noise in the Bahamas

Winthrop is in a vacation paradise until Sunday. The team flew to the Bahamas on Wednesday.

They will have to play some basketball before they can enjoy the sun and the sand though.

The Lady Eagles' first game in the Sunsplash Shootout is a tough test against No. 25 Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets (8-2) broke into the Top 25 last week for the first time since Jan. 21, 2008, and are on the national radar for only the third week in the last 15 years.

Georgia Tech plays in the ACC and coach MaChelle Joseph has prepared her team for the rigors of conference play. The Yellow Jackets have already taken on No. 1 Connecticut (Big East), No. 5 Texas (Big 12), Michigan State (Big Ten), Georgia (SEC) and Oregon (Pac 10).

"We have now played teams from all five of the other power conferences this early in the season and it has been a tremendous experience for our players," Joseph said. "These experiences have provided us a chance to earn this distinction. I look forward to what is ahead."

The Jackets' only two losses have come away from home -- at No. 1 UConn and against No. 5 Texas.

Last season, Georgia Tech finished the season with a school record 456 steals and led the NCAA with 14.3 steals per game.

Joseph will press for 40 minutes with numerous schemes to keep Winthrop off-balance. Joseph wants her team to "be an impressive running defensive team that creates opportunities for the offense." Even though it is early in the season, Tech is averaging a staggering 14.6 steals a game.

Winthrop coach Bud Childers knows Joseph well. He followed her high school career in Indiana. He coached Louisville against Purdue when Joseph played for the Boilermakers.

"They (Georgia Tech) are a team that is constantly attacking the basket," Childers said. "They have made 164 free throws and given up just 160 attempts.

"This team is every bit as good as the Xavier team we played. When we've had success, we've been able to dictate the tempo. If we go out, do all the little things and the ball falls in for us a few times, who knows?"

Winthrop comes into the game fresh off an 11-day break. The Lady Eagles (4-3) had a game at Georgia State (Dec. 13) re-scheduled until late January providing for a longer break than originally planned.

The timing has worked out well for senior shooting guard Tiffany Rodd, who has been slowed by a high ankle sprain. She missed the George Mason game on Dec. 7 and spent more than a week in a protective boot.

She reported that the ankle feels good and went at nearly 100 percent in practice over the weekend with minimal soreness. Rodd is the school's leader in 3-pointers made and is closing in on the Big South Conference's all-time record.

The Lady Eagles are 0-2 all-time against Georgia Tech, with the last meeting coming in 1990, when Tech scored a school-best 124 points in the win. Tech has accumulated a 12-1 overall record against Big South opponents.

Winthrop has won two straight games and will play its second ACC opponent of the season. They lost at Clemson, 76-68, on Nov. 25.

The winner of Thursday's game will meet the winner of the Texas-Arlington/Memphis game at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Childers has used two point guards on the floor at times in recent games and, given Georgia Tech's penchant for pressure, will likely do the same today. Yvonne van Daalen and Kathi Ryska provide extra ball handling that could prove necessary.

Georgia Tech senior guard Jacqua Williams has more steals (44) this year than Winthrop does as a team. With 305 career steals, she holds the school's record in that category. She was named to the 2008 ACC All-Defensive Team when she finished with a single-season school record 118 steals, leading the ACC and ranking fourth in the nation with 3.8 per game.

Van Daalen's play has been solid through the team's first seven games. She leads the team in assists and has become more of a scoring threat. She poured in a career-best 17 points at Clemson.

Ashley Fann leads the team in scoring and rebounding, but has gotten off to slow starts recently. A couple quick baskets by Fann would open things up in the middle for Ashley Haugtvedt and/or Jennifer Walker.

"We are looking for that great season. We want to make a mark on the program," Fann said.

Walker played her first game of the season coming off the bench against George Mason and scored a team-high 12 points.

The Lady Eagles will need to play the kind of defense that has led to two straight wins. In particular, Winthrop will have to defend Alex Montgomery, who has become Georgia Tech's go-to player, and Brigitte Ardossi who got her first career double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) against Georgia.

Montgomery has become the center of the Yellow Jackets offense. She is averaging 13.0 points and 5.1 rebounds a game and is shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc. She hit four 3-pointers at Oregon.

Ardossi is scoring 9.3 points a game and 4.8 rebounds per game. She is also knocking down her free-throw attempts at an 85 percent clip.