Entering as the No. 12 seed in the Lexington Regional of the women’s national basketball tournament, the FGCU women’s basketball team (31-8) battled and maintained their lead throughout the whole game eliminating No. 5 seed Missouri (24-8) 80-70 in the first round of the NCAA National Tournament in Stanford, Cal. This was the Eagles second national tournament win and the second time in program history that they made it to the second round of the tournament since the 2014-15 season.
“Obviously it was a great win for our program and a great effort by every kid we had that got on the floor,” FGCU head coach Karl Smesko said. “They all contributed in a big way to the success at different points during the game, and I’m proud of them.”
Missouri, an at-large selection out of the SEC that defeated three nationally-ranked teams during the year, including defending national champion South Carolina, became the third nationally-ranked opponent FGCU has knocked off this year (#20 Kentucky, #21 Depaul). The Tigers came into the contest ranked No. 15 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
“It’s an upset in terms of seeding, but we definitely came in with the mindset that this was a game we can win if we executed at a high level,” Smesko added. “A big thing that we emphasized was the last four times we’ve been here, we performed well. But at the beginning of each game, there was a sense of a little bit of nervousness or tension, and we never got off to good starts. So we made a real emphasis this time to let our team know, hey, you belong here; you’re just as good.
The Eagles closed the first 10 minutes of the first quarter with a 6-0 run including a buzzer-beating layup from senior Rosemarie Julien and maintained the lead, settling for a 41-32 halftime lead. FGCU’s lead got as large as 13, 45-32, following a pair of Julien free throws in the early minutes of 3rd quarter, but the Tigers whittled their deficit down to as little as four at 54-50. However, the Eagles responded with a patented yet unexpected 3-point ball from sophomore Tytionia Adderly which extended the lead for the Eagles back to seven, 57-50. The Eagles added another point to their advantage in the closing minute and carried a 61-53 lead into the 4th quarter.
Entering the 4th quarter, sophomore Nasrin Ulel to push the FGCU lead back to 10, 63-53 with an opening layup. From there, the Eagles maintained their lead to the end of the game by double figures despite taking many punches from Missouri All-American Sophie Cunningham had as she led all scorers with 35 points, including going 14-16 from the free-throw line. Cunningham was the only Tiger in double figures.
The Eagles had four players in double figures: Julien (12), senior Erica Nelson (11), and redshirt seniors China Dow (21) and Jessica Cattani (10).
Adderly finished with seven points and nine rebounds with three of them being on the offensive side while Nelson added four assists and Julien added one rebound and one assist before both fouled out. Redshirt junior Lisa Zderadicka finished with seven points, four rebounds and three assists.
The Eagles hit seven 3-pointers in the game and need 15 to break the all-time NCAA single-season record for 3-pointers made held by Sacramento State (424).
The Eagles return to action as they play No. 4 seed Stanford who defeated No. 11 seed Gonzaga 82-68 following FGCU’s win. The Game will start at 9 P.M. EST/6 P.M. PST on Monday.