The road to March in the Atlantic Sun conference will go through Fort Myers.
As expected, the FGCU women’s basketball team faced little resistance from Kennesaw State, and locked up the top-seed in the all-important scramble for the conference’s automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament on Monday, earning them homecourt throughout the tournament for the fourth time in five years.
The Eagles won 78-51.
A 17-3 run to end the first half allowed the Eagles to gap the Owls after they stuck around early. China Dow keyed the run with a driving layup with 4:01 left in the second, followed by a three from the top of the key. Just under two minutes later, Lisa Zderadicka raced past the Owls for an easy layup, pushing the lead to 39-20 with 2:14 left in the second.
Dow would book end the run with another layup and another three to stretch the lead to 44-23 at the half. She had all her tied for a team-high 15 points in the second quarter alone, four more than the entire Owls team during that stretch.
“I think it’s fun,” Dow said. “And I think its what he wants, too. He tells us to get out in conversion and once you get out in conversion you get open people. Pushing the ball and doing the things we need to do to get open always works for us, and it’s always fun for us.”
And the Eagles continued to squeeze the life out of Kennesaw State in the second half, continuing to grow the lead. A three-point play from Nasrin Ulel minutes into the second half grew the lead to 55-25. The Eagles would eventually lead by as many as 36 in the fourth period before putting in the reserves.
“I thought the first quarter was really tight,” Eagles coach Karl Smesko said. “Fortunately in the second quarter we played exceptionally well, we got the ball out in transition, China and Rose [Julien] had big quarters, we were able to extend the lead and kind of ride the game out.”
Five Eagles scored in double figures, Dow and Julien with 15 each, Taylor Gradinjan had 12 points, and Ulel and Zderadicka each scored 11.
Kamiyah Street led Kennesaw State(7-17, 3-10) with 18 points.
NELSON’S ABSENCE OPENS FLOOR
The Eagles played without their typical starting point guard Monday, as Erica Nelson continues to recover from an ankle injury suffered Saturday against Lipscomb.
In Nelson’s absence, Zderadicka got the start at point guard.
“Lisa is a really good point guard. The combination of E and Lisa has been great,” Smesko said. “Hopefully E will come back soon but we all felt very comfortable and confident in what Lisa could do.”
TITLE NOT LOCKED YET
While the Eagles have clinched homecourt advantage in the ASUN tournament, they only have assured a share of the conference’s regular-season title.
FGCU leads Jacksonville(21-7, 11-2) by one game, but they have the tiebreaker due to sweeping the Dolphins in the regular-season.
The Eagles will earn the title outright, their seventh in the last eight years and eighth since joining the ASUN in 2007, with a win on Saturday against Stetson(17-12, 8-5).
at Stetson, Saturday
No. 8 NJIT(ASUN Quarterfinal), Mar. 2
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