The Winthrop women’s basketball team hopes to close the regular season by clinching second place in the Big South Conference as the Eagles host a couple of Bulldog teams in Gardner-Webb on Thursday night followed by an ESPN3 appearance on Saturday’s Senior Day with UNC Asheville.
The Gardner-Webb is set for 4 p.m. while the Asheville game will begin at 1 p.m. Senior guard Diana Choibekova, the team’s only senior, will be recognized during a special pre-game ceremony.
The Eagles, who enter the Gardner-Webb game on a three-game winning streak, have compiled a 18-10 overall record and a 12-4 conference slate and are on the cusp of setting a new school record and tying another this week. Winthrop is two wins shy of tying their all-time NCAA Division I record of 20 victories in a season which was set by the 2007-08 team, and one more Big South Conference win would be a school record, surpassing last year’s total of 12 league victories.
Winthrop could possibly clinch second place and the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big South Conference Championship Tournament in Conway, SC, with a win over GWU and a Presbyterian College loss to Liberty. Winthrop and PC enter Thursday night’s games with identical 12-4 league records. If they tie at the end of the regular season, Winthrop will receive the No. 2 tournament seed based on its two wins this season over the Blue Hose.
A second place finish in the league would also guarantee Winthrop a spot in post-season play for just the second time in the program’s NCAA history. Invitations to the WNIT or WBI would await Winthrop should it not win the Big South tournament and receive the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Coach Kevin Cook’s crew already owns close road wins this season over Asheville and Gardner-Webb. Winthrop defeated Asheville 65-59 on Jan. 10 and two days later knocked off GWU 60-55. The Thursday night game with the Bulldogs will mark the 13th meeting between Winthrop and Gardner-Webb. The Eagles trail in the series 8-4, but have won the last three contests with the GWU Bulldogs.
Saturday’s game with UNC Asheville’s Bulldogs will be the 63rd meeting between the two rivals. Winthrop now leads the series 34-28 after winning the last three battles.
Junior guard Dequesha McClanahan has upped her league-leading scoring average to 19.3 points per game with her recent surge. In last week’s two games with Longwood and Radford, the 5-8 point guard from Oak Ridge, TN scored 50 points to move into fourth place on the Winthrop career scoring list and was selected the Big South Conference Player of the Week for a second time this season. She has now scored 1,580 points and is 120 points away from becoming the all-time women’s scoring leader for the Eagles. In addition to her scoring exploits, McClanahan also leads the conference in assists this year with 5.9 per game and ranks second on the Winthrop career list with 499.
Freshman Schaquilla Nunn, a 6-3 center from Fayetteville, GA, is making a strong statement for Freshman of the Year honors as she is coming off her 12th double-double of the season against Radford and enters the Gardner-Webb game ranked second in the conference and seventh in the nation in blocked shots (3.19) and second in the league and tied for 17th in the nation in rebounding (10.3). Nunn was honored for the fourth time this season as Big South Conference Freshman of the Week for her two games last week in which she averaged 14 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocked shots.
Cook is hoping to have the services of Choibekova on Thursday night. The 3-point marksman has missed the last three games with a sprained ankle. She ranks second on the team in scoring with a 13.7 average and is ranked sixth nationally for 3-point field goals made per game after leading the nation in that category last season.