Two years ago, the FGCU women’s basketball team watched as Jacksonville celebrated on their home floor.
On Sunday, they got to right that wrong.
Rosemarie Julien and Lisa Zderadicka took over in the second half, and FGCU slowly but surely pulled away from Jacksonville, 68-58 on Sunday to win the Atlantic Sun tournament title and earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in seven years of trying.
“It’s the last time on our court, why not win a championship and go home with a smile on our faces?” said China Dow, the tournament MVP for the second year in a row. “Playing on this court for the last time was a little emotional, but it was fun too.”
As is always the case when FGCU and Jacksonville play, the Eagles found themselves locked in a tough, physical fight, and it kept the Eagles off balance for much of the first half.
But a six-minute stretch that saw Jacksonville go scoreless provided the opening FGCU needed.
Lisa Zderadicka hit a three off a crazy sequence that saw Julien and Tytionia Adderly keep the ball alive with multiple offensive rebounds, flipping it out to the Austrian-born junior to give the Eagles(30-4) the lead for good, 40-39 with 3:36 left in the third as part of a decisive 13-2 run.
Zderadicka had 17 points for the Eagles, 13 of them in the second half. Zderadicka had seven of her points in the third quarter run, including a drive to end the third, giving the Eagles a 49-41 lead.
“She’s been excellent all year long,” Smesko said. “In the big games she always is willing to try and make a play. When the game it was close it was her that made the key baskets for us.”
But it was her bucket to open the fourth that was the biggest highlight reel play of the afternoon. Driving the baseline, Zderadicka blew past a defender, then put up a no-look shot over the shoulder for the layup.
“You always think they’re going in,” Zderadicka said, smiling. “But I might have had a little luck there.”
After that it was all Julien. The senior scored 13 of FGCU’s last 19 points, part of her game-high 19 points, including a big-time three with 4:22 to go to made it 62-51, giving the Eagles their largest lead of the game.
“We knew there was no time, we knew we had to pull together and stay together,” Julien said.
And JU, which had controlled the pace and tempo of the afternoon for much of the game, found itself chasing in a big way. After hitting four of their first five shots to open the second half, the Dolphins(24-8) hit just six more the rest of the way, including a single basket in the game’s last 8:33.
“We just couldn’t find a way to get the ball into the basket, and I feel like with every miss there was just more and more pressure that we felt,” Jacksonville coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said. “Seeing the ball roll in and roll out a couple times, and seeing them make a couple was a turning point.”
For much of the opening half, and the first few minutes of the third, Jacksonville’s brutal, grindy, physical style of basketball controlled the day. And Dow was the only thing keeping the Eagles in it.
Dow had 15 of her 18 points in the first half, half of FGCU’s first half-scoring, and was the only player that seemed to be comfortable early on as the lengthy and tough Jacksonville defense eliminated space for jump shots, forcing the Eagles to drive.
“You drill and drill but it always hits you the next day,” Dow said about Jacksonville’s physicality. “Everybody gets that from Jacksonville, the next day you’re like ‘oh, we might need to go to the ice tub.’”
In fact, FGCU, the leading three-point shooting team in the nation, hit just five on Sunday.
“We’ve played teams that have done similar things, like DePaul who was really committed to not letting us shoot threes, and we have to create space,” Smesko said. “The thing that we talked about the most was stretching the floor getting the width covered and getting into actions so when we move the ball when can closeout and attack the rim more.”
Since becoming tournament eligible in 2012, the Eagles have won five of seven ASUN tournaments, and have played in every tournament final.
2018: vs. Jacksonville, W, 68-58
2017: at Stetson, W, 77-70
2016: vs. Jacksonville, L, 56-54
2015: vs. Northern Kentucky, W, 60-43
2014: vs. Stetson, W, 72-70(OT)
2013: vs. Stetson, L, 64-70(in Macon, Ga.)
2012: vs. Stetson, W, 67-39(in Macon, Ga.)
NCAA Women’s Selection Show, Monday
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