A Big Ten opponent to start the year was no big deal for the FGCU women’s basketball team, as they rolled past Illinois in their season opener, 85-61 on Sunday.
Nasrin Ulel took full advantage of her first start for the Eagles, scoring a career-high 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field, including 4-of-5 from three. The sophomore keyed a 12-2 run early in the second with a three from the corner which gave the Eagles a double digit margin they’d keep the rest of the night, and then another three-ball late in the second saw the Eagles ahead by 17, a lead they kept into the half.
“I was nervous, I kept telling my teammates about how I was super nervous,” Ulel said, but said an early contested three showed it was going to be her night. “I took a contested three [early] and was like, well, everything’s going in. It wasn’t really a good shot but that’s how I knew.”
The break didn’t slow Ulel, or the Eagles down either, as Ulel hit a layup to start the third, and the lead kept growing.
“I’ve been saying that I think Nas is poised to have a breakout year,” Eagles coach Karl Smesko said.
Senior Rose Julien, who was limited by an illness, had 13 points, including a three in the third to push the lead to 54-33. Jessica Cattani hit a layup at the buzzer to give the Eagles their largest end to that point, 67-42, to end the third.
“Rose didn’t get to play a lot of minutes, but she was super effective,” Smesko said.
Julien at one point left the bench after a coughing fit in the first period, but didn’t take anything beyond water and a cough drop, she said.
Rather good cough drop, as she hit a three and got a block immediately after returning in the second.
“While I was in the bathroom choking I could hear the crowd going, so I knew they were doing good,” Julien joked. “When I came back and we were up I was so proud of my team.”
FGCU led by as many as 30 in the fourth before bringing in the reserves.
The night started off about as well as it could have for FGCU, forcing a shot clock violation on Illinois’ very first possession. The defense would continue to frustrate the Illini from there, forcing three straight turnovers to open the game. They finished with nine steals, and 20 total turnovers.
“I thought the defensive effort early was outstanding, it’s a matter of can we keep that type of intensity,” Smesko. “You noticed a huge difference when we settled in on the quality of shot Illinois was able to get. What we need is to find a way for the players on the floor to remind each other to lock in. When you’re out there it’s easy to let your mind wander. It’s a constant reminder for everybody.”
Four FGCU players finished in double figures, Ulel, Julien, Taylor Gradinjan with 14 points, while China Dow added 11.
A major concern for FGCU at the end of the game, however. Sophomore standout Tytionia Adderly, the team’s best rebounder went down late in the game with a left knee injury. The severity of the injury was unclear at the time, but Adderly spent the remainder of the night with an ice bag on the trainers’ table. Adderly finished the game with seven points and nine rebounds.
Smesko was optimistic that it was just a bruise.
“It was knee on knee with another player,” Smesko said. “She’s doing better now, hopefully we’ll get her some ice and she’ll be back shortly.”
NUMBERS TO KNOW
5 – Lisa Zderadicka. The junior transfer from Austria by way of Houston Baptist impressed in her debut, showing impression court vision and defensive activity. Zderadicka had five points and five assists coming off the bench.
13 – The Eagles hit 13 threes on Sunday.
.500 – FGCU’s lifetime record against teams from the Big Ten conference. Sunday’s win made the Eagles 4-4 all-time against the conference.
At FIU, Wednesday
© 2017 Lee Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.