Taylor Gradinjan has been around the FGCU women’s basketball program for a long time.
The sixth-year senior, who had to sit out two seasons due to knee injuries, as a result, has memories longer than many of her teammates.
One such memory is of the 2016 Atlantic Sun conference final, when Jacksonville upset the Eagles on their home floor on a late Brandi Buie jumper with 3.1 seconds to go, giving the Dolphins a 56-54 win and leaving the Eagles on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament.
“Awful,” Gradinjan said when asked about that game on Wednesday after the Eagles 105-55 drubbing of Lipscomb in the conference semifinal. “I don’t want to repeat that. Ever. You just don’t want to lose, and having lost to Jacksonville we know they’re capable of it and we can’t let that happen.”
Well, on Sunday, the Eagles(29-4) have the chance to right that past wrong, as they will once again host Jacksonville for the ASUN tournament title.
FGCU swept Jacksonville(24-7) in the regular season, but both have been close, a 63-58 win at home on Jan. 27, and a late steal by Erica Nelson preserved a 65-63 win in Jacksonville on Feb. 3.
“They’ve been a great team all season long,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. “Both games we played against them went down to the last minute, basically every time we’ve played them over the last few years its come down to the last minute.”
And as Stetson has started to slip in recent years, it’s the Dolphins who have emerged as the Eagles’ chief rivals as they continue their transformation in their fifth year under firebrand young coach, Yolett McPhee-McCuin.
“Jacksonville is a very good team, they’ve played us very close every time we’ve played them the last two or three years,” Gradinjan said. “It’s a physical game every time we play them, you have to get your boards, make sure we keep them off the boards, and it’s a game of stopping their drives and keeping them off the foul line.”
Expect to see a battle of two teams trying to enforce their style of basketball. FGCU leads the conference in field goal percentage, and leads the nation in made threes at 402 on the season. Jacksonville leads the conference in field goal defense(37.6 percent) and three-point defense(28.2 percent).
KEYS TO THE GAME
Control the glass – FGCU basically played both of their two game against Jacksonville this season without leading rebounder Tytionia Adderly. Adderly played just five minutes in the first game before getting knocked out with a concussion that kept her out for the return leg as well. At 9.2 rebounds per game, Adderly is second only to JU’s Kayla Gordon(9.7 rebounds) in the conference. Without Adderly, the Eagles were dominated on the glass, with the Dolphins holding double-digit advantages in both games.
Dictate style – The Eagles want the game to be played in transition and on the wings, where the speedy Lisa Zderdicka and Erica Nelson can run the offense. The Dolphins want the game slowed to the half-court and in the paint, where they have the advantage with size and physicality.
NO. 1 FGCU vs. NO. 2 JACKSONVILLE
Sunday, 3:00 p.m.
Alico Arena, Fort Myers
Radio: FOX Sports 94.1
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