It’s one of the most-anticipated games in the Atlantic Sun each season, and as has been the case in recent years, fans don’t have to wait long to see it go down.
One of the best series in women’s basketball resumes for another tilt as the FGCU women’s basketball team plays host to Stetson on Saturday in the ASUN opener for both teams as part of a men’s and women’s doubleheader.
“Just going based off last year, I didn’t know how the experience was,” guard Rosemarie Julien said. “Now that I know I’m more pumped and excited.”
Last season saw these two split the regular season, each winning on the other team’s floor. Julien played lights out in the conference opener, going 11-of-14 from the field as part of a 36 point effort for the Eagles in an 84-71 win in DeLand. The Hatters returned the volley on Feb. 25, winning 67-64 in overtime at Alico Arena, not only winning in Fort Myers for the first time in program history, but taking the ASUN regular season crown away from the Eagles for the first time since 2010.
It was FGCU getting the last laugh though, traveling back to DeLand in the conference finals, beating the Hatters 77-70 to win the conference’s NCAA Tournament bid.
But that was last year.
“One thing about conference is everybody knows everybody so well, at this point there’s a different knowledge about teams,” Eagles coach Karl Smesko said on Dec. 29 after an 87-78 win over South Dakota State.
These two more than most. Since 2012, when the Eagles became full-fledged Division I members and postseason eligible, only once – 2015 – have FGCU and Stetson not played three times in a season. And four of those third in a year meetings have been for an NCAA Tournament berth.
That makes the Hatters a big measuring stick game – we know FGCU is miles better than the likes of the bottom dwellers such as NJIT and Lipscomb – but how do the other contenders stack up? Just how good is this FGCU team?
“You have to ask me day by day,” Smesko said. “My struggle is I think that we can be really good, and I want to push the team to get there. I want to see that they want to be pushed as much as I’d like to see them take it to another level. That’s going to be key for us, can we take a win and realize that ‘man, there’s a lot of things that could have very easily made it a loss.’”
“If we can have that kind of maturity, there’s still a lot of growth and improvement to be made within this teams.”
Against Stetson, the key is going to be slowing down Brittney Chambers. The speedy guard leads Stetson with 16.6 points per game. And its her ability to run out that gets others, like Kennedi Colclough(13.7 ppg) and Cape Coral grad McKenna Beach(12.9 ppg) going.
“They rebound and transition and get out with their guards fast, and they’ve got rim-runners,” Eagles guard China Dow said. “I think stopping her, we have to stop her shot because she can shoot. Play her to drive.”
One thing the Eagles may have to watch out for is if Stetson coach Lynn Bria had any tape on their South Dakota State game. The Eagles couldn’t miss to open the game, but a switch to the zone by the Jackrabbits in the second half slowed the Eagles down enough to allow South Dakota to come back in the fourth quarter.
Smesko said that while the Eagles typically don’t struggle against a zone(big shock – a three-point shooting team isn’t afraid of the zone), he hoped that the experience would be a valuable reminder to his players.
“Hopefully our players see where you start to take for granted that if you play against zone you’re going to do well, well you’re always going to do well if you do the right things,” Smesko said.
STETSON(9-7) VS. FGCU(14-3)
Saturday, 4:00 p.m.
Alico Arena, Fort Myers
A men’s basketball game between Stetson(8-8) and FGCU(9-8) will follow at 7 p.m.
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