FGCU WOMEN 76, KENNESAW STATE 53
KENNESAW STATE (14-17, 8-10)
Wells 6-14 4-5 16, Gideon 7-13 1-3 15, Farrar 4-7 4-6 12, Mills 3-10 0-0 6, Bolden 2-3 0-0 4, Gray 0-1 0-0 0, Young 0-0 0-0 0, Capellan 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-49 9-14 53.
FGCU (28-2, 18-0)
Hansen 6-10 6-6 18, Chihil 4-6 2-2 13, Jacobson 4-10 0-0 12, Griffin 2-8 2-2 7, Kennedy 2-6 1-2 6, Whitfield 2-2 0-0 5, Jackson 2-3 1-1 5, Knight 1-4 2-3 4, Rechis 1-2 0-0 3, Iamstrong 1-1 0-0 2, Chatzigiakoumi 0-0 1-2 1, Ball 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-52 15-18 76.
Halftime—FGCU 34-22. 3-point goals—KSU 0-6 (Mills 0-6), FGCU 11-20 (Jacobson 4-7, Chihil 3-3, Griffin 1-5, Rechis 1-1, Kennedy 1-2, Whitfield 1-1, Knight 0-1). Fouled out—None. Rebounds—KSU 29 (Farrar 8), FGCU 31 (Hansen 7). Assists—KSU 11 (Capellan 5), FGCU 17 (Chihil 5). Total fouls—KSU 15, FGCU 14.
MACON, Ga. — Florida Gulf Coast University’s women’s basketball team passed a tough Atlantic Sun tournament test early Friday afternoon.
Facing a brutish, rebound- and paint-focused Kennesaw State team that had given them fits in a seven-point home win fewer than five weeks ago, the Eagles came out strong and continued to flex throughout their 76-53 semifinal win at Mercer’s University Center.
Regular-season champion FGCU (28-2) will face second-seeded Stetson (23-9) in today’s conference championship game at noon. Stetson shot down No. 6 Jacksonville 67-60 in the other semifinal.
The Eagles, undefeated in A-Sun play, beat Stetson twice in the regular season, including a 79-56 thrashing at Alico Arena last month.
“Stetson’s an extraordinarily talented team and very dangerous,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. “I thought they ran the floor great today, got a lot of transition baskets. It’s going to be a tough game.”
Stetson coach Lynn Bria nodded.
“They’re a very good team,” Bria said. “We’re going to have to guard. They do a really good job of moving the basketball. They have great team offense and great team defense. We’ve got to take care of the ball and be aggressive.
“We’re both 2-0 on a neutral court.”
At stake is much more than a banner — the A-Sun’s automatic NCAA tournament bid.
Heading into the semifinal matchup against KSU, the Eagles, playing in their first A-Sun tournament after four seasons of transition into Division I, harped on matching the fifth-seeded Owls’ toughness. After all, KSU had whipped them on the boards by eight in FGCU’s 58-51 home win on Jan. 28. The Owls shoved them around and outplayed them in several aspects in that game, and the FGCU coaches and players readily admitted it.
“I thought we showed good toughness,” Smesko said. “We were in there and fighting. We weren’t conceding any rebounds, either. We know every time down the floor there’s going to be contact, and a lot of it. Kennesaw definitely didn’t disappoint in that regard.”
KSU coach Colbey Tilley seemed in awe of the Eagles.
“They’re just a great team,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out how we stayed so close to them at their place.”
Unlike loaded FGCU, the Owls have only four guards and go only eight deep, although they prefer to keep it at six. The Eagles, always looking to push, wore them out.
“We like to run anyway, so we try to push anyway, but we obviously had an advantage with depth and we were trying to get fresh bodies out there as much as we could to try to put some pressure on them and wear them down a little bit,” Smesko said.
After a somewhat sluggish first half before a second-half explosion buried No. 8 East Tennessee State 79-63 on Wednesday, the Eagles went right at KSU (14-17) from the get-go. Mostly working the inside, FGCU bolted to a 17-7 lead with 13:21 left in the first half.
KSU stayed within striking distance, but back-to-back 3-pointers by senior guard Kelsey Jacobson made it 30-19 with 4:07 remaining. Jacobson fourth trey of the first half, from the top-left with six seconds left, made it 34-22 at intermission.
“We know they can come back, so we kept focusing on our defense,” Jacobson said.
The second half was more of the same — the Owls bulling inside, FGCU driving for high banks or firing 3-pointers. Two quick 3-pointers by senior guard Courtney Chihil pushed FGCU to a 42-26 lead. The separation continued, with another Chihil try extending the lead to 61-38 with 8:45 to play.
FGCU simply continued to dominate KSU, which was coming off Thursday’s dramatic 51-49 comeback win against No. 4 North Florida.
Sophomore forward Sarah Hansen paced FGCU with a game-high 18 points and team-high seven rebounds. Chihil had 13 points, mostly by making all three 3-point attempts, and a team-high five assists. Jacobson was 4 of 7 from behind the arc for 12 points.
The Eagles, who continue to lead the nation in 3-point makes (10.9 per game), hit 11 of 20 (55 percent) and shot 48.1 percent from the field.
“I thought we shot the ball really well from all areas,” Smesko said.
FGCU outrebounded KSU 31-29, and its 12 turnovers were six less than the Owls suffered.
Kristina Wells led KSU with 16 points. Sametria Gideon had 15 and seven rebounds.
“We came in today against a very, very good basketball team,” Tilley said. “Defensively, they just would not let us do the things we like to do, which is a trademark of theirs — they don’t ever let teams do what they like to do. We never were able to get any kind of continuity at all, and that’s a tribute to their defense.”
Did Tilley think FGCU toughened up?
“Oh, they did, there’s no question about it,” he said.