For the second time in three seasons, the FGCU women's basketball team is heading back to the NCAA Tournament after earning a thrilling 72-70 overtime victory over Stetson on Sunday in the Atlantic Sun Tournament championship game at Alico Arena.
FGCU (26-7) advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2012 as a No. 12 seed and learned Monday night that it again takes a No. 12 seeding to a first round matchup against No. 5 Oklahoma State on Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind. The Eagles have won at least 20 games for 10 consecutive seasons.
The game will be broadcast live from Mackey Arena on the campus of Purdue University on ESPN2 and is scheduled for 11 a.m.
"I think we're all excited to finally get the team we can prepare for," said five-time Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year Karl Smesko. "We don't know a lot about Oklahoma State yet, besides the fact that they're one of the best teams in the country, but we'll find out more about them over the next couple of days and put in a game plan. I think we're all excited for the opportunity and especially excited to go to Indiana for this game."
The Cowgirls (23-8) lost to Baylor 65-61 in the Big 12 Championship. In two years with the program, head coach Jim Littell has guided the Cowgirls to a record of 45-19 and now two-consecutive NCAA Tournament berths. As a no. 7 seed last season, the team defeated DePaul in the first round, but lost to Duke to conclude the season.
This season, the Eagles and Cowgirls have faced similar opponents in South Florida and TCU. Both teams defeated USF and OSU twice defeated defeated TCU this season in Big 12 action. The Eagles lost to TCU in the Puerto Vallarta Tournament of Hope in November.
The Eagles are in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. They lost in overtime to no. 5 St. Bonaventure in Tallahassee in the program's first ever postseason appearance in 2012.
All first round games will be played Saturday and Sunday at regional sites around the country. Second round games will be played at the same locations on March 24-25 with the Regional rounds scheduled for March 29-30 and March 31-April 1 in four locations.
Against Stetson on Sunday, the Eagles trailed by three at halftime and fell behind by nine early in the second half. The Eagles stormed back to outscore the Hatters 28-12 over a period of minutes to reclaim the momentum. The Eagles led by seven with seven minutes to play, but the Hatters tied the game 60-60 in the final 10 seconds of regulation.
The Eagles jumped ahead 68-61 in the opening minutes of overtime before Stetson sank two jumpers and two free throws to cut the deficit to three points with 25 seconds to play. Made free throws by Kaneisha Atwater, Amanda Moore and Sarah Hansen sealed the win for the Eagles.
"I am so proud of our team in the way that they were able to pull out this game, keep their composure and play so well during the overtime period" said Smesko. "Stetson is the best Atlantic Sun team that we've faced since we've been in the A-Sun. Just like a week ago, it was two really good teams playing really good basketball and we feel fortunate to win and to get the automatic bid to represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament."
Junior Jenna Cobb paced FGCU with a game-high 19 points on five three-pointers. Atwater produced her first double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Hansen added 13 points and eight rebounds for the Eagles, who defeated the Hatters for the third time this season.
All three girls earned a spot on the Atlantic Sun All-Tournament team with Cobb receiving the MVP nod in her first conference tournament since transferring from Butler last season.