The FGCU women’s basketball team hit more three pointers this season than any Division I team ever.
But it wasn’t enough to keep their season going.
Seeking their first Sweet Sixteen in program history, the Eagles were stymied by a bigger, taller, deeper Stanford team, as the No. 4 seed Cardinal dropped FGCU 90-70 on Monday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at their home Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif.
“They were way bigger than Mizzou,” said senior China Dow, who led the Eagles with 23 points. “Our drivers weren’t open. I wish I would’ve grown overnight but it didn’t work out that way.”
The Eagles(31-5), without a single player on their roster standing 6-feet tall, were obviously going to be at a size disadvantage against a Stanford team with eight 6-footers on their roster, but the difference was stark from the outset.
Stanford(24-10) outrebounded the Eagles 52-18 on Monday, including by a 16-2 margin in the first quarter as they jumped out to a 33-17 lead after the first, that would reach 35-17 on a layup from Alanna Smith early in the second. Smith had a double-double for the Cardinal, pulling down 12 rebounds to go with a team-high 28 points.
The No. 12 seed Eagles managed to fight back. Junior Lisa Zderadicka hit back-to-back threes, and combined with sophomore Nasrin Ulel went on an 18-5 run, including eight straight from Ulel to cut the gap all the way to 40-35 after Ulel hit a three with 1:34 left in the half.
“We knew if we lose, we’re out, so we knew we had to give it our all and keep fighting to get it closer,” Zderadicka said.
That would be as close as they got.
Stanford reeled off a 12-3 run as the Eagles, who shot 47 threes on Monday as the lane was pretty much a no-go from the opening tip, saw jumpers keep falling off the mark, and saw Stanford able to take advantage of long rebounds and run-outs, and second chance opportunities on their own end.
“Once you have defensive breakdowns and you’re in scramble mode it’s really hard to get your block outs. We had so many instances where we screwed up something we were guarding and meanwhile somebody is going to the backboard and getting a second shot opportunity,” Eagles coach Karl Smesko said. Stanford nearly had as many offensive rebounds(16) as the Eagles had total rebounds. “We knew we weren’t going to win boards, but we had to keep them to 10 or 11 [offensive rebounds], not 16.”
Stanford advances to face No. 1 seed Louisville in the Lexington regional semifinal.
Of the 47 threes FGCU shot on Monday, 17 of them went in. That gave them 431 three pointers on the season – a new NCAA Division I record.
Dow tied the record, previously 424 by Sacramento State in 2015, on a three with 7:40 left in the third quarter. Just over a minute later, she hit a contested three from the left wing to set the new record.
Those were Dow’s first six points of the night.
“If you know [Smesko], if you know our program, if you miss just keep shooting because that’s what we’re taught,” Dow said. “Don’t get down on yourself. Just keep shooting. That’s what I kept doing and it fell in the second half.”
Monday marked the end of the line for five FGCU seniors: Dow, Rosemarie Julien, Erica Nelson, Jessica Cattani, and Taylor Gradinjan. Dow, Julien, and Nelson were all transfers, each playing two seasons at FGCU, Dow spent a third sitting out as a transfer. Cattani spent five years at FGCU, while Gradinjan leaves as a sixth-year senior, missing her first two years with knee injuries.
Dow was emotional after the game talking about what it meant to be playing her last game.
“It’s more than just basketball when it comes to your teammates. Like, they are my friends and family,” Dow said. “It’s just like, dang, like if I could have another year, I’d take it.”
“I’m going to miss them.”
SEASON IN NUMBERS
431 – An NCAA Division I record for three pointers in a single season.
31 – FGCU’s 31 wins in 2017-18 marks their third 30-win season in the last four years.
2-5 – The Eagles all-time record in the NCAA Tournament(wins in 2014, and Saturday).
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