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Tall, storied Stanford between FGCU women and first Sweet Sixteen

Lee Herald Favicon 16The FGCU women’s basketball team has a tall task in front of them if they want to make their first Sweet Sixteen in program history.

Literally.

No. 4 seed and host Stanford, with eight players standing at least 6-feet tall, await the No. 12 seed Eagles in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion, with a spot in Lexington on the line.

FGCU(31-4), with no player taller than 5-foot-11, is used to being outsized when they play NCAA Tournament games, and when they play against Power 5 schools in general. And they did already handle a much bigger No. 5 Missouri to get here, controlling the game much of the way by spreading the Tigers out to get open drives into the lane in Saturday’s 80-70 win.

And the size, really, isn’t anything that Eagles coach Karl Smesko can do about, as he pointed out Sunday.

“We’re not going to try to be taller than them,” Smesko deadpanned.

The gameplan for FGCU on the offensive end is similar: you can’t outsize them, so outscheme them.

“For us to win we have to really move the ball, move people, be hard to guard and shoot a good percentage. We’re going to play as a team defensively to try make as many plays as we can because we know they’ve got talented players who make tough shots,” Smesko said.

“In order to compete we have to fight for every loose ball, we have to be willing to get on the floor and take charges. That’s the only way we can survive against some of these big things is if we’re willing to do those things.”

The Cardinal(23-10) are led by senior guard Brittany McPhee, a 6-footer than missed Stanford’s first nine games. She puts up nearly 17 points per game, and has been a huge difference maker for the Cardinal.

“They’ve improved tremendously throughout the season. Just all around they’re much better defensively and in transition,” Smesko said, adding that Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer should’ve earned consideration for national coach of the year.

6-foot-4 junior Alanna Smith puts up 13.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, then there’s 6-foot-3 Kaylee Johnson, who leads the Cardinal with 7.5 boards per game, to round out the 6-foot starter club.

Freshman Kiana Williams, a diminutive 5-foot-8 by comparison, leads Stanford in three-point shooting, hitting 39 percent on her threes, and she’s hit 70 percent of them in the postseason, including 5-of-8 in the Cardinal’s first round win against Gonzaga.

FGCU and Stanford have played once in their history, in Mexico in 2013, when VanDerveer earned her 900th career win with an 83-59 victory. The Cardinal have one of women’s basketball’s most decorated histories. They’ve made the tournament every year 1988, and the Sweet Sixteen each of the last 10 years, with seven Final Four appearances in that span.

“I always knew Stanford was a really good team, one of the top teams year after year,” senior Taylor Gradinjan said. “Yeah, it’s intimidating because they’re successful, they obviously know how to win games, but every team we should come in with the same mindset. I think we can do what we do and hopefully win.”

No. 4 STANFORD vs. No. 12 FGCU
Maples Pavilion, Stanford, Calif.
Monday, 9:10 p.m.
TV: ESPN2
(Broadcast note: for those not in Southwest Florida, or those with satellite television service, the ESPN2 broadcast will be whip-around coverage of other games in the time window.)
Online: WatchESPN


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