FGCU WBB earns third A-Sun Championship crown

Author: FGCU Athletics
Published: Updated:

FORT MYERS, Fla. (FGCU Athletics) – In its fourth conference championship game in four seasons of eligibility, the No. 20 FGCU women’s basketball team defeated the No. 3 seed Northern Kentucky 60-43 Sunday afternoon at Alico Arena. The Eagles, who entered the championship game with an official RPI of 15, move to 30-2 on the season and become the first A-Sun team to hit the mark, while NKU falls to 19-13 after their first A-Sun tournament appearance.

With the win, the Eagles earn their third A-Sun Tournament Championship in four years and will appear in the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight season. The Eagles will learn their seed and opponent for The Dance in Monday evening’s Selection Show. FGCU will host a viewing party at Alico Arena with the doors opening at 5:30 p.m. The show will be broadcast live at 7 p.m.

The Eagles took a 13-0 lead right out of the gates and never looked back. Backed by four double-figure scorers, the team maintained a 10+ point lead for 36 of the game’s 40 minutes and sailed to its third NCAA Tournament appearance in just four years of Division I postseason eligibility.

“We got off to a great start with a big lead at the beginning of the game,” said A-Sun Coach of the Year Karl Smesko. “We got a little sloppy with our offensive execution and wasted a lot of possessions but when things got a little tight, Whitney [Knight] came up huge with steals and by knocking down shots. The Conference Player of the Year came up huge in the second half of the conference title game, just like you’d expect and hope and I’m proud of her and the rest of our team.”

FGCU‘s 25th-straight win was fueled by A-Sun Player of the Year Whitney Knight (Winston-Salem, N.C./R.J. Reynolds High School), who scored 21 on the day and totaled 39 points through the three-game A-Sun Tournament. Knight was named Tournament MVP with Jenna Cobb (New Holland, Ohio/Miami Trace High School/Butler) and Kaneisha Atwater (Fort Pierce, Fla./Fort Pierce-Westwood High School/VCU) joining Knight on the All-Tournament Team, each with 36 points.

Atwater added 13 points in the team’s 30th win and pulled down a career best 13 rebounds with team bests at three steals and two assists. Taylor Gradinjan (Cudahy, Wisc./Cudahy High School) and DyTiesha Dunson (Albany, Ga./Westover High School) each added 10 points against NKU to give the Eagles four double-figure scorers.

As a unit, the Eagles shot 41.8 percent on the day with only five long-range shots but scored 34 points in the paint and added 14 fast-break points. Led by Shar’Rae Davis’ 6-for-7 performance from the perimeter, the Norse converted 34.9 percent of shots and scored 33 of their 43 points from beyond-the-arc at a success rate of 45.8 percent. The Eagles outrebounded NKU 37-24 and forced 22 turnovers with 11 steals.

Atwater started things off for the Eagles with two made free throws in the opening minutes and enabled her team to take a 13-0 lead after just five minutes. The opening drive saw points from Stephanie Haas (Avon Lake, Ohio/Magnificat High School), Dunson and Gradinjan, while the Norse started 0-for-7 from the field.

After a six-minute drought, NKU got on the board with back-to-back 3-pointers but Dunson was quick to maintain the Eagle lead with buckets on each of the next possessions.

The next eight minutes saw just one bucket in a Knight fast-break layup as the Eagles maintained a double-figure lead at 19-6. NKU added another David 3-pointer near the six-minute mark and cut it to 10 points again two minutes later but the Eagles ended the half with a 10-2 run sparked by baskets from Cobb, Dunson and Gradinjan.

NKU scored its final points of the half at the one-minute mark and allowed FGCU to go into the break with a 15-point lead at 32-17.

The visiting team again cut the deficit to 10 points with five-straight points to open the second stanza but an 8-0 run from Atwater and Knight pushed the lead back to 18 points. After one mid-range jumper from the Norse, the duo again combined for six-straight points and gave the team a game-high 22 point lead midway through the half at 46-24.

FGCU allowed the Norse to six long-range shots in the second half but forced nine turnovers and scored 18 points in the paint to maintain the heavy advantage and cruise to a 17-point victory.

With the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Eagles will play in the first round at the end of the week against an opponent to be determined. Monday’s Selection Show will seal the date and foe for the Green and Blue’s next matchup. Full information will be available at FGCUAthletics.com Monday evening.

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