College basketball: FGCU women look to sweep Stetson for A-Sun title

Scott McIntyre/Staff
FGCU's Brittany Kennedy takes the ball up the court causing University of North Florida players to chase her down during their semi-final game of the Atlantic Sun Basketball Championship at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. on Friday.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff FGCU's Brittany Kennedy takes the ball up the court causing University of North Florida players to chase her down during their semi-final game of the Atlantic Sun Basketball Championship at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. on Friday.

Projected starters

Pos. Height Year Name PPG RPG FG PCT.

STETSON

G 5-4 Sr.Victoria McGowan 16.2 6.7 47.7

G 5-7 So. Jama Sharp 9.0 3.9 45.8

G 5-7 Sr. Shanasa Sanders 13.9 6.5 42.9

F 6-0 Sr. Ashley Dennis 3.0 1.0 33.0

F 6-0 Jr. Sasha Sims 11.7 3.9 47.0

FGCU

PG 5-7 Sr. Brittany Kennedy 10.0 5.0 49.5

G 5-8 Fr. DyTiesha Dunson 3.4 2.3 28.4

G 5-10 Fr. Jaime Gluesing 7.0 2.7 47.5

G 5-9 Sr. Joyce Iamstrong 11.1 4.0 43.0

F 5-10 Jr. Sarah Hansen 16.9 7.5 49.3

MACON, Ga. — To get back to the Big Dance, the Florida Gulf Coast University women must first get through Stetson.

The Hatters beat Mercer 67-52 in the Atlantic Sun tournament semifinals Friday, setting up a showdown between the top two seeds in Saturday’s championship game. The A-Sun final between No. 1 FGCU (27-5, 20-0) and No. 2 Stetson (22-8, 16-4) tips off at 5:30 p.m.

Stetson is led by senior Victoria McGowan, the 2012 A-Sun Player of the Year. The 5-foot-4 guard averages 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds a game.

Senior guard Shanasa Sanders and junior forward Sasha Sims made the all-conference second team. They combined to score 25.6 points a game this season.

“Stetson is a very talented team,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. “They have a lot of weapons. They’re definitely one of the most difficult teams to guard. It takes everybody busting their tail on each possession.”

The Hatters’ three all-conference players combined for 38 of their team’s 67 points and 26 rebounds in the semifinals.

The Eagles swept Stetson in the regular season. FGCU won 74-55 at home Jan. 26 and 72-55 at Stetson on Feb. 23. With a victory over North Florida in the semifinals, FGCU has won 41 straight conference games.

In their second year of postseason eligibility, the Eagles are unbeaten in the A-Sun tournament. The defending champs plan to keep that streak alive against Stetson.

“We came here to do something, and we’re trying to accomplish it,” said FGCU junior Sarah Hansen, this year’s A-Sun Player of the Year. “That’s what’s in the front of everybody’s minds right now come out and do what we have to do (Saturday) to take care of business.”

Gone but not forgotten: The FGCU women have been without one of their best players all season, yet she’s been on the court with the Eagles during the Atlantic Sun tournament.

Whitney Knight had season-ending knee surgery in the preseason. The 6-foot-3 sophomore guard was expected to be a major contributor this year.

To honor her teammate, senior point guard Brittany Kennedy writes Knight’s No. 15 on the back of her shoe. When freshman Taylor Gradinjan went down with a knee injury in November, Kennedy started writing her No. 2 on the back of her other shoe.

“I want to let them know they’re still on the court with us,” Kennedy said. “They’re just as much a part of this team as anybody else even though they can’t play. They mean a lot to me to put them on my shoes.”

Kennedy has No. 15 on the back of her left shoe, the same knee Knight injured. The point guard writes No. 2 on her right shoe because Gradinjan injured her right knee.

Strong shooting: The Eagles women weren’t their normal selves from behind the arc to start the tournament. FGCU hit eight 3-pointers, a good amount for most teams but less than the Eagles’ average of 9.2 a game, second in the nation.

FGCU broke out Friday by drilling 12 3-pointers, a single-game tournament record. Six players made at least one 3, including a 4-for-4 performance from Joyce Iamstrong.

The Eagles have shot 42 percent from deep in two A-Sun tournament games, an improvement from 32.7 percent during the regular season.

North Florida was 0-of-10 from behind the arc. Before Friday the Ospreys averaged five made 3s a game and shot 30.3 percent from long range.

Getting defensive: The Eagles had 13 steals in Friday’s semifinals, led by three each by Sarah Hansen and Brittany Kennedy. FGCU forced 20 turnovers, which it converted into 25 points.

Eagle out: Freshman guard Amanda Moore sat out her fifth straight game for the women in Friday’s semifinals. After the quarterfinals, Eagles coach Karl Smesko said Moore has back spasms and is doubtful for the rest of the tournament.

Moore, a 5-foot-10 guard, played 9.3 minutes a game and averaged 2.4 points.

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