FGCU women improve to 9-2 with home win against Northern Colorado

Author: Jamie Church, FGCU

Backed by strong offensive performances from Stephanie Haas and Whitney Knight, the FGCU women’s basketball team defeated the University of Northern Colorado 69-56 Friday evening at Alico Arena. With the win, the Eagles move to 9-2 on the season, while the Bears end the 2014 calendar year at 6-5.

With eight-quick points from Knight (Winston-Salem, N.C./R.J. Reynolds High School), the Eagles took a 10-2 lead in the opening minutes of the game and never looked back. Knight went 4-for-4 from 3-point range and pushed FGCU to a 21-point lead in the opening stanza. The Eagles allowed UNC to produce a seven-point run late in the half but still maintained a double-figure lead at the break. After halftime, the Bears cut the deficit to nine points but an 8-1 run for the Eagles midway through the half helped levitate the lead back to 17 points. With 13 second-half points from Haas (Avon Lake, Ohio/Magnificat High School), the team cruised past the Bears for its sixth home victory of the season and its 18th straight over the last two seasons.

“We came out really well. We had good pace offensively and we stretched them out and executed what we wanted to start,” said head coach Karl Smesko. “Our pace wasn’t great in the last six minutes of the first half and most of the second half. This is a great defensive team, if you’re not cutting hard and moving the ball, you’re not going to get good shots and that was disappointing. They made a nice run to make it a game and they made the second half a fight. We were able to maintain a little bit of distance with big shots when it got closer than we wanted and good shots from Knight and Haas really helped us get this win.”

Knight opened the late-afternoon tilt with a 3-pointer and pulled the momentum in FGCU’s favor with eight of the Eagles’ first 10 points. Coupled with a layup from Cobb, Knight’s push gave the Eagles a 10-2 lead in the first four minutes of action. With five UNC turnovers, the Eagles used an eight-point run to take a 14-point lead midway through the first half.

The team added buckets from Cobb and Haas and used successful free throws from DyTiesha Dunson (Albany, Ga./Westover High School) and Katie Meador (Salem, Ill./Salem Community High School) to push the advantage to a game-high 21 points with 4:43 on the clock.

After facing a significant deficit, the Bears sparked a 14-4 run in the last four minutes that included a 7-0 streak to end the half. The late push was capped by a long 3-pointer at the buzzer that brought the halftime score to 36-25.

The Bears cut the Eagle lead to single digits in the opening possessions of the first half but two quick baskets from Haas and Taylor Gradinjan (Cudahy, Wisc./Cudahy High School) pushed the lead pack to 14 points.

After a three-minute scoring drought from both teams, the Bears scored five straight to bring the score to 47-37 with 11:25 on the clock but it would be the closest the visiting team could bring the score for the remainder of the game. A traditional three-point play by Atwater was followed by another layup from Haas to bring the advantage back to 15 points midway through the second half.

The Bears added one free throw to stop the Eagle run before senior Anthi Chatzigiakoumi (Athens, Greece/General Senior High School of Kallithea) responded with a pivotal 3-pointer from the left corner near the eight-minute mark. Another long-range shot from Chatzigiakoumi a minute later gave FGCU a 58-41 lead but the Bears increased their defensive pressure and halted the Eagle momentum.

A Northern Colorado 3-pointer with 2:19 on the clock brought the score to 64-53 and gave the Bears a boost, but after a UNC called timeout, the Eagles sank five-of-six shots from the free-throw line to maintain the lead and earn a 69-56 victory in front of the home crowd.

FGCU will again have a quick turnaround with another nonconference contest slated for Monday, Dec. 22. In their third game in six days, the Eagles will travel to Jonesboro, Ark. to take on Arkansas State Monday at 8 p.m. EST. Following a few days off for the Christmas holiday, the team will reconvene in Philadelphia for the Saint Joseph’s Hawk Classic Sunday, Dec. 28.

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