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Despite the distance between one campus located in Wilson and another located in Georgia, Barton College and the University of North Georgia are not strangers in the women’s basketball circle.
The first-round opponents in the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional collided back in November. The rematch is set for noon Friday in the top-seeded Carson-Newman University gym in Jefferson City, Tennessee.
The Lady Bulldogs, seeded No. 6 in the eight-team field, don’t dwell on the outcome against the Nighthawks in Barton’s fifth game of 2017-18. North Georgia dominated 75-49.
But the Nighthawks, seeded No. 3 and tournament queens from the Peach Belt Conference, won’t be opposing the same Barton squad. In the first meeting, head coach Wendee Saintsing was without 6-foot junior Kianna Wynn and 5-10 senior Karimah Dean, who, in 31 games, have combined to average 27.6 points and 16.5 rebounds per contest.
Wynn, All-Conference Carolinas second team, leads Barton at 18.1 points and 9.2 rebounds. Dean, who excels in the sixth-player role, produces 9.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per outing.
“They’re a big part of what we do,” commented Saintsing in a telephone interview from Jefferson City on Thursday evening. “They take a load off the guards. We really didn’t have much of an inside presence the first time; they will make a major difference offensively and defensively.”
Wynn will start along 5-9 senior Alex Kimble, 5-7 junior Dinah Neal, 6-2 freshman Shanika Peterkin and 5-9 senior Tatyana Jackson.
Kimble, first-team all-conference, scores at a 17.1 clip, while Neal averages 11.7. Peterkin, the nation’s leading Division II shot-blocker, comes in at 4.2 blocks and 9.0 rebounds per tilt. Jackson is the top playmaker at 4.2 assists.
The Nighthawks, 27-4 and Peach Belt tourney champs for the first time, are all about a formidable inside presence.
North Georgia features 6-0 freshman Julianne Sutton, 6-0 junior guard Amber Skidgel, 5-10 senior Deana Blankinship and 5-10 junior Vanessa Agrusa.
Skidgel is the top scorer at 12.8 points per game, followed by Blankinship at 10.9 and Agrusa at 9.4. Blankinship rebounds at a 7.0 clip, followed by Agrusa at 5.9. Seven players average seven-plus points per game.
“They have a good inside-outside game,” Saintsing said of the Nighthawks. “They have three strong post players. We’ve got to be ready to defend and keep them off the boards. They’re so solid and sound in everything they do.”
The Lady Bulldogs (23-8) want to play fast.
“We like to make other teams play defense and make decisions quickly,” Sainting expressed. “We need to keep everybody out of foul trouble and do a good job of executing. Nobody can take a play off.”
In Barton’s seventh regional appearance in Saintsing’s 29 seasons and first since 2013, the Lady Bulldogs bid to advance beyond the quarterfinals for the first time since 2011 in the familiar underdog role.
“They’re ready to play,” Saintsing insisted. “But it is what it is. We have one opportunity and we need to make the best of it and continue on Saturday. We’ll just give it our all and hope positive things will happen. I feel good about it.”
Barton secured its regional berth by winning the conference tournament and presenting Saintsing with her 500th career win.
She assures to celebrate No. 501 on Friday afternoon “would be awesome.”