FGCU wins A-Sun Conference Title over Northern Kentucky, 60-43
“Every game means a lot to us.”
Kaneisha Atwater reverberated those six words in a postgame press conference after a game in which most saw as a game that really had no meaning after already clinching the automatic bid on Wednesday against Jacksonville.
The Florida Gulf Coast University women’s basketball team cemented a record-breaking season with a victory over Northern Kentucky University 60-43 in the Atlantic Sun conference final game at Alico Arena Sunday afternoon.
“We built a double-digit lead at the beginning of the game and we got a little bit sloppy with our offensive execution and following the game plan on how to attack them,” FGCU head Karl Smesko said. “Then the conference player of the year (Whitney Knight) came up huge in the second half of a conference championship game as you would expect and hope I’m proud of her.”
This will be the third time in four years that the program will be heading to the NCAA tournament. FGCU became the first Atlantic Sun team to win 30 games in a season with its victory Sunday.
The Eagles moved to 30-2 on the season with a 25-game win streak, which is tied for fourth in the nation.
“We’re just really excited to win the conference,” Smesko said. “Winning the regular season and then following it up with the tournament championship, we are excited about the opportunity of going to the NCAA Tournament and representing the Atlantic Sun.”
Whitney Knight, the 2015 A-Sun Tournament MVP, scored a game-high 21 points and added seven rebounds. Knight became only the fourth player in FGCU history with 1,000 points and 500 rebounds alongside of Courtney Chihil, Sarah Hansen and Adrianne McNally.
Kaneisha Atwater had a career day with 13 rebounds and added 13 points. Atwater alongside of Knight and Jenna Cobb were all named to the conference all-tournament team.
FGCU forced 22 turnovers and dominated the paint 34-2. The Eagles had the Norse number this year winning all three matchups by double digits.
“The reason why they’re really good right now is because first of all they’re tough to guard, but most importantly what they’ve done most of the season but mostly this half of the season is that they really lock you down and defend,” NKU head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. “There are physical with you, they make it tough to get second chance opportunities and they are a very good defensive team and I don’t know if they get enough credit for that. They are going to be tough to beat and I could see them making a run because they’re good on both ends of the basketball.”
The game began with a 13-0 FGCU run and they never relinquished the lead throughout the ball game leading by as many as 22 with over 10 minutes left in the second half.
With 34 points in the paint, FGCU swayed away from its regular pattern of shooting three’s only making five. However, the Eagles were solid from the field shooting 41.8 percent.
The women will find out their tournament opponent tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Alico Arena. Doors open at 5:30 for the selection show party and will feature a live broadcast of the selection show and speeches from Smesko and President Bradshaw.
“I’ve never been in the room so I don’t know how it breaks down,” Smesko said. “A lot of times for mid-majors, it’s hard for you to get top 100 games and top 50 games because those teams won’t play you. We were fortunate this year that we were able to play a lot of teams in the top 100, teams in the top 50, teams in the top 25 in RPI so usually if you’re going to slide down very far from your RPI it’s because you won’t have a good record against those top teams or enough games against those top teams. That’s not the case with us so I think it would be hard to move us too far back if they are going to look at us in depth.”
(EN Photos / Kelli Krebs)