Until this season, FGCU women's basketball team had lost only three straight games once, in its second-ever season of 2002-03.
FGCU (4-4), which has just two returning starters from last season's 29-3 A-Sun championship team, dropped three in a row in mid- to late-November and has dropped four of its last six.
But the 11th-year program's only coach, Karl Smesko, still believes this team can put it together and notch its second-straight NCAA tournament berth in this second year of eligibility. To do so, the Eagles have to win the A-Sun tourney.
An expert hasn't counted them out either.
ESPN's Charlie Creme, who does the women's Bracketology, has FGCU, as a 15th seed, playing second-seeded Louisville in the Oklahoma City regional.
"We understand we have a lot of work to do, but I still think we have a team that's capable of winning," Smesko said. "I wouldn't expect that we could put it together and look great at this point in the year. But I think we could look better than we have. There's a lot of things going on and we're working on getting players to play the way we play here.
"I'm still very optimistic in what the season can become."
FGCU, which started two true freshman in its last game, a 67-46 loss at South Florida on Dec. 5, has taken three big knee hits, two of them knocking out starters for the season. The third, freshman backup point guard DyTiesha Dunson, likely will miss the next two games — at Virginia Tech on Sunday and at Richmond on Wednesday — but should return soon after.
That's big because she's the only true point guard who can spell fifth-year senior Brittany Kennedy.
"I do think she's going to help us when she comes back and gets in shape," Smesko said. "I think DyTiesha can be a big lift for us."
Smesko said there's a "little bit of a mischaracterization" of his team's plight. RealTimeRPI.com rates FGCU's schedule as the 22nd most difficult. And it should be noted, the Eagles are eighth in the mid-major poll.
"They look at our record and think our team's really struggling, but we've played one of the toughest schedules in the nation at this point," Smesko said. "Last year's team and the year before that, would they have won more games? Probably. But if last year's team played this same schedule, they wouldn't have had the same record as they had last year."
Cook Still Struggling: Fifth-year senior guard Lerrin Cook, FGCU's best 3-point shooter, still is hampered by a strained hip muscle.
A starter before the injury a couple weeks ago, Cook came off the bench to play 23 minutes at USF and scored all nine of her points on 3 of 12 3-point shooting. She also had four rebounds.
Smesko said the training staff has tried plenty of rest. Then when Cook seems recovered and tests herself live, she reaggravates the strain.
"That's been a nagging injury for us," Smesko said. "Her and DyTiesha I'd like to have for these next two games, but that's probably not going to happen."
Tall order: Sophomore forward Filip Cvjeticanin has missed two full games and has averaged just 11.4 minutes because of back pain.
The 6-foot-9 3-point ace (his 43 percentage was second in the A-Sun last season) doesn't have a specific injury. The problem apparently is a wear and tear one often associated with taller folks, especially thin ones. Cvjeticanin, who averages 4.5 points and 2.3 rebounds and has shot 33.3 percent behind the arc this season, is listed at 212 pounds.
"He's doing OK," Enfield said. "We just hope that the last two-thirds of the year he can be pain-free or close to it and can get back to his old self."
No procedures have been prescribed thus far.
"But with back issues you just never know," Enfield said. "Just cross your fingers and hope for the best."
All-Sports: Thanks largely to its A-Sun regular-season titles in men's and women's soccer and volleyball, FGCU leads the all-sports race for the Bill Bibb
Trophy following the completion of the fall seasons.
FGCU was the only of the 10 A-Sun schools to nab more than one fall title. Fifth-place Lipscomb won the women's cross country title and last-place Stetson won
the women's cross country title. With 106.5 points, second-place East Tennessee State is 13.5 points behind FGCU. Mercer is in third with 97.5 points.
With 72 points, FGCU also leads the Sherman Day (women's) Trophy standings. North Florida, with 61.5 points, is second.
FGCU is tied with ETSU in the Jesse C. Fletcher (men's) Trophy standings.
Scoring is based on regular-season finishes. Points are awarded on a descending basis in three-point increments. A minimum of five full-fledged members must participate in a sport for it to be counted. The total number of points available for each sport is based on the number of teams participating.
TV: The A-Sun recently announced a partnership with Cox Sports Television, which will carry 13 conference basketball games in 2013.
CST, which services two million households, picked up FGCU's men's games vs. Stetson on Jan. 25 and at Stetson on Feb. 22.
It also will air the men's and women's A-Sun tourney semifinals on March 8 and the women's title game on March 9.
Keep up with FGCU athletics on Dana Caldwell's Eye on the Eagles blog at blogs.naplesnews.com/eye_on_the_eagles
Today-Men's Basketball vs. Florida International, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday-Women's Basketball at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, 2 p.m.
Tuesday-Men's Basketball vs. Southeastern, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday-Women's Basketball at Richmond (Va.), 7 p.m.