TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida Gulf Coast was the talk of college basketball two years ago when its men’s team advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 and now the women are just a game away from matching that achievement.
Kaneisha Atwater scored 26 points and Whitney Knight added 19 points and 10 rebounds Saturday as the 20th-ranked Eagles won their 26th straight game with a 75-67 victory over Oklahoma State in first-round play of the NCAA tournament Saturday.
Atwater hit 10 of 17 shots and also grabbed eight rebounds while Knight was 8 of 20 from the floor.
”Kaneisha and Whitney had huge scoring games, but the whole team had to step up,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. We had a lot of players step up.”
Smesko said the men’s team’s run two years ago has been ”fantastic” bringing recognition for the school, located on the outskirts of Fort Myers, in southwest Florida.
”We’ve been right on the precipice for a long time,” Smesko said. ”We know our next game is going to be against one of the very best teams in the country.”
FGCU, which led by 17 at 71-54 with 4:37 left, will meet seventh-ranked Florida State in Monday’s second round here
Jenna Cobb keyed a late 12-0 run that put the game out of reach for Oklahoma State. She hit a 3 and then a short jumper before setting up another trey by teammate Stephanie Haas.
It was a sweet win for the Eagles (31-2) who were eliminated in last year’s first round of the NCAA tournament 61-60 in overtime by Oklahoma State. It was also their first win in three tries at the big dance.
”To get the first-round win for the first time is definitely an exciting thing,” Smesko said. ”It’s nice to get over the hump. Great to see our kids celebrating.”
Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell knew coming in that he had matchup problems, especially with the 6-3 Knight who plays guard, but defends and rebounds furiously as well.
”Hard to simulate and prepare for a guard like Knight, who crerated all kinds of matchup problems,” Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said. ”They are better, more seasoned than we are.”
Oklahoma State (20-12) was led in scoring by junior guard Roddricka Patton’s career high 23 points. She had scored only 34 points all season entering the game. Patton hit five of eight tries from 3-point distance.
”I knew they would leave me open,” Patton said. ”I had to knockdown shots to help my team.”
Liz Donohoe added 14 points for the Cowgirls, all in the second half.
Brittney Martin’s game-high 12 rebounds helped Oklahoma State to a 44-32 advantage on the boards.
The Eagles shot 45.2 percent and hit on 34.4 percent from 3-point distance while Oklahoma State shot just 37.1 despite making 8 of 15 from 3-point land.
FGCU jumped off to an 11 point lead at 24-13 midway through the first half although Oklahoma State rallied to earn a pair of brief one point advantages late in the half.
The Cowgirls closed to within three at 38-35 on a Donohoe jumper with 17:45 remaining, but couldn’t get any closer.
Florida Gulf Coast: The Eagles last loss was nearly four months ago when they lost 90-83 to Ohio State in a double overtime game Nov. 29 at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. Only UConn and Princeton have longer winning streaks.
Oklahoma State finished with 20 wins in four straight seasons for the first time in its history.
Oklahoma State had previously played four overtime games in NCAA tournament games.
FGCU’s Whitney Knight, the Atlantic Sun Coast Conference Player of the Year, is the only player to lead a conference in 3-point shots and blocked shots.
Florida Gulf Coast kept up its pace shooting 3-pointers, making 11 of 32 in Saturday’s win.