This weekend, the Florida Gulf Coast University women’s basketball team heads north to try to stay undefeated in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
The Eagles play at 7 p.m. Thursday at Lipscomb in a game that will be televised on ESPN3. Saturday, FGCU takes on Northern Kentucky at 7 p.m. This will be the first time FGCU plays both teams this year. FGCU is 13-6 on the season and 7-0 in conference play.
Last Saturday, the Eagles shut down the University of North Florida, holding the Ospreys to 34 points on the night, winning 54-34 at Alico Arena.
FGCU extended streaks of 43 consecutive regular-season conference wins (NCAA best) and 51 consecutive home conference wins.
“I thought we had a really outstanding defensive effort,” FGCU head coach Karl Smesko said. “We really wanted to pressure and take some things away from them.” Ohio natives Stephanie Haas and Jenna Cobb led the Eagles with 14 and 12 points, respectively. Cobb had a season-high six steals.
The Eagles only shot 31.5 percent from the field, but forced 26 turnovers to win the game by 20 points.
Last Thursday, behind a programrecord nine blocks from redshirt sophomore Whitney Knight, the Eagles put away Jacksonville University 56-49 at Alico Arena.
The win marked two milestones for FGCU. First, it was the program’s 300th win, all under head coach Karl Smesko. Second, it was Eagles 50th straight conference win at home. The last time FGCU lost a conference game was Jan. 8, 2009.
“I’d like to complement Jacksonville,” Smesko said. “They are an aggressive team, they are an attacking team and I thought they played very well. In the second half they kept coming at us, but we were able to hold them off and make free throws at the end to get the win.”
The low-scoring affair early changed with five minutes left in the first half, when Knight took over the game, scoring 16 of an 18-point Eagles run as FGCU took a 39- 25 lead at the half. Knight led the Eagles with 20 points on the night and added eight rebounds.
“In the last five minutes of the first half, Whitney really got it going and Jacksonville had already used timeouts so it was hard for them,” Smesko said. “It was pretty impressive and getting the big lead was important for us.”
Senior captain Sarah Hansen added, “When Whitney is open she can knock down shots at a high percentage. Coach (Smesko) has been saying it all season that if she gets to her finish she can shoot at a high percentage better than just about anybody.” The second half was a struggle for the Eagles with just 17 points, but Jacksonville could only counter with 24.
Hansen added 15 points and was the leading rebounder for the Eagles with nine. As a team, FGCU outshot the JU 34.7 percent to 32.7, but the Eagles shot a miserable 26.1 percent from the field in the second half.
JU head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin is looking forward to the rematch against the Eagles on Feb. 20.
“Our team has to get used to playing in these situations,” McPhee-McCuin said. “ Our team just isn’t used to this, but we have another opportunity when they come play us at our place. When they do that we’ll be ready.”