Exactly a year ago, FGCU women’s basketball paid a visit to Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This year, to finish their 2015-16 nonconference play, the Eagles skipped the cold and hosted the University of Hartford Hawks at Alico Arena.
In a late shower, the Eagles took a 64-44 win over Hartford after a rain of threes took away any chance the Hawks had at a win.
The Hawks took the Eagles’ floor with a 4-8 record, while the Eagles were 11-4 on the year and on a four-game win streak.
The Eagles, at first, struggled with Hartford’s 2-3 zone defense, keeping them out of the paint and off the arc. Quick close-outs made the Eagles take quick shots without proper momentum. Even when the Eagles did set their shot, the baskets wouldn’t fall.
The defense was a strong suit for the Eagles throughout the game and kept the Hawks off the board early.
After the first timeout, the Eagles got aggressive offensively. Kenisha Atwater cut behind the zone for a little jumper, followed by Haley Laughter getting to the line to sink two free throws. A weak press by Hartford let the Eagles up the floor easily, and it quickly became FGCU’s game.
The energy picked up from there for the Eagles, while the Hawks struggled to keep up. FGCU was setting the speed of the game, and all that kept them from running away with it was the inability to finish at the basket.
Hartford’s zone challenged FGCU, but its man-to-man couldn’t keep Atwater from the hoop; she ended the game with 11 points.
At the half, FGCU held more than just a seven-point lead. FGCU led in rebounds, assists, blocks and steals, but both teams shot under 30 percent.
The second half started rough for the Eagles defensively. If the Hawks had been able to make their baskets, the Eagles would have been in some serious trouble.
What sealed the Eagles’ fate was a three-streak by Taylor
Gradinjan at the start of the fourth quarter, accompanied by a three from Whitney Knight.
“Our defense was consistent and good throughout the game,” said FGCU head coach Karl Smesko. “We shot very poorly those first three quarters. We’re not ready to shoot it when we catch it. And, something we get to three feet behind the line, and we’re kind of reducing the percentage ourselves.”
Gradinjan stepped out of her comfort zone and up to the occasion, taking a shot at 16 three-points, to sink six of them and finish the game with 21 points. In the first three quarters, she had a rough start, but she says she just kept shooting to get hot.
“I just knew the ball was going to go in at some point,” Gradinjan said. “A miss is a miss, just got to keep doing your form.”
With the momentum their way, the Eagles continued to remind the crowd what they are all about. The fourth quarter flew by, and even the score table couldn’t keep up with the Eagles.
A 20-point difference glowed on the scoreboard at the final buzzer, and the Eagles took a 64-42 win for the books.
Now that its non-conference play has come to a close, FGCU will host Stetson on Saturday, Jan. 9.
The Hatters and Eagles last met in Deland last February in conference play. FGCU took away a 61-39 win to advance and eventually take the 2015 Atlantic Sun Conference regular season title.
“I don’t think we’re ready to play Stetson right now,” Smesko said. “We have a week to get ready for them. We’re going to have to shoot better and execute better.”