After reaching the third round of the WNIT for the first time in program history, the FGCU women’s basketball team continued its historical WNIT run into the Elight Eight. FGCU defeated Tulane 73-61 on Wednesday night at Alico Arena to advance to the fourth round.
“Tulane’s got an excellent team,” said FGCU head coach Karl Smesko. “They are a lot better than their record indicates. You have to remember they played No.1 UConn three times. Their guards are outstanding and (Tierra) Jones is a very tough kid to match-up with because she’s so aggressive and she’s an excellent driver.”
The story of the game for the Eagles, was their 3-point shooting.
FGCU drained 11 shots from behind the arc on 28 attempts shooting 39.3 percent on the night to propel them to its 12-point victory, with all of their starters making at least one shot from long-range.
“We feel good,” Smesko said, “we know we beat a really good team today.”
FGCU had five players finish the night in double-figures propelling the Eagles to their farthest WNIT run in program history.
“It’s really difficult to defend us when we have five players in double figures,” said senior guard DyTiesha Dunson. “Teams have to guard every one of us, they can’t slack off or not guard one of us; you have to pay attention to all of us. That makes our offense very dangerous.”
After a tough night on the court against Wake Forest on Monday night finishing with just six points and fouling out in the fourth quarter, Whitney Knight brought her A-game against the Green Wave. The two-time Atlantic Sun Player of the Year knocked down five shots from long-range in the first half, ending the night with 22 points. Knight also grabbed 10 rebounds marking her second double-double of the tournament, with her first coming against Bethune-Cookman in round one.
“I was just catching it ready and I was open on a lot of them,” Knight said. “I was open on a lot of them, so I shot it and my shot was going in early today, so I think that gets me going when it goes in pretty early. My teammates were getting me the ball when I was open, so I was able to knock them down.”
Coming off an 18-point performance against Wake Forest on Monday night, senior Stephanie Haas continued to punish opponents who give her space to drive. Haas finished the night with 11 points, two rebounds and tallying two assists.
Kaneisha Atwater scored 14 points and dished out five assist in the Eagles’ Sweet 16 victory.
Dunson, the A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year, continued to find her teammates leading the team in the assist column once again with six assists. Dunson was also one of five Eagles who ended the game in double-figures, scoring 11 points.
Taylor Gradinjan’s consistency behind the 3-point line continued in the victory over Tulane, making two shots from long range and scoring 11 points, after making three shots from behind the arc in the Eagles previous contest against Wake Forest.
In the first quarter, Tulane did not back down from a team that blew out their first two opponents. The Green Wave played aggressively on offense and defense, scoring eight points in the paint. At the end of one, the Eagles lead Tulane 16-12.
Despite a good start on offense in the first, Tulane wasn’t able to get it going, turning the ball over four times and failing to score a basket for 4:21 in the quarter. The Eagles 3-point barrage continued in the second, knocking down three more attempts from long-range to put them at seven made 3-pointers in the first half. After shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from behind the arc, the Eagles led the Green Wave, 33-22, at the end of the first half.
It would continue to rain threes in the third quarter, as FGCU’s hot shooting continued making two more 3-pointers in the quarter. The Eagles would shoot 63.6 percent from the field, outscoring Tulane 27-19 and outwitting the Green Wave’s unsuccessful full-court press, to lead 60-41 coming into the final quarter.
The tide would change for Tulane in the second half, as its full-court press forced FGCU to turn the ball over eight times. Tulane heated up on offense hitting back-to-back threes on multiple possessions to cut the Eagles 22 point lead in the third, to just an 11 point 64-53 lead with 4:46 remaining in the contest.
Despite the Green Wave’s offensive run, the Eagles were able to recuperate after Knight hit the Eagles 11th 3-pointer, to put the nail in the coffin and seal FGCU’s fate in the Elite Eight, with a 73-61 victory.
“Tulane kept fighting,” Smesko said. “They hit a few three’s in a row and they just kept attacking us. We turned it over against the press a couple of times at the end of the third and in the fourth were we just a little sloppy with the ball.”
The Eagles now turn their attention to their Elite Eight opponent Hofstra, who they will host at Alico Arena Monday at 7 p.m.
“We know they are good,” said Smesko. “They beat Villanova and Virginia to get to this point and we know anyone who has made it this far in the WNIT has to be a really good team. It should be a great game, hopefully we’ll get this place (Alico Arena) filled up and make this as great a home court advantage as we can.”