Florida Gulf Coast-Oklahoma St. Preview
(AP) – Sarah Hansen knows her school can make noise in the NCAA tournament. After all, she plays at Florida Gulf Coast.
And maybe ”Dunk City” will become ”3 City” this time around.
It was the FGCU men who became the feel-good story of last year’s NCAA field, dunking their way to the Sweet Sixteen as a No. 15 seed. This time, it’s the FGCU women (26-7) who are heading to the Big Dance, and memories of last season’s hysteria are helping the Eagles enter this tournament brimming with confidence.
”It’s absolutely inspiring. What they did was incredible,” said Hansen, FGCU’s senior leader. ”They set so many records. The first 15 seed to get to the Sweet Sixteen. They had an incredible run and it just goes to show you that just because you’re not expected to win, when everyone is doubting you, you can still do it.”
So going above the rim was the weapon of choice for the FGCU men. For this FGCU women’s team, which opens its tourney quest as a No. 12 seed and will face fifth-seeded Oklahoma State (23-8) on Saturday morning at West Lafayette, Ind., the strength comes from long range.
Of the 64 teams in the women’s field, no one makes more 3-pointers than the Eagles, who on average connect more than 10 times per game from beyond the arc. The 3 has been a staple of coach Karl Smekso’s program for years – with a record of 314-63 in his 12 FGCU seasons, his approach clearly works – but it’s hardly the only weapon this team has.
”I think there’s a lot of excitement about March basketball and this year it does seem heightened because of what the men were able to accomplish,” Smesko said. ”It was a pretty special, pretty rare occurrence. A lot of people started paying attention to basketball at FGCU, particularly the men’s side, but there’s more awareness in general.”
FGCU’s women made it to the NCAA’s in their first season of Division I eligibility two seasons ago, losing to St. Bonaventure in a game that the Eagles felt – and probably rightly so – that they should have won. And they fell in last season’s Atlantic Sun title game to Stetson, costing them a repeat trip to the tournament and creating an obvious source of inspiration to get it done this season.
This year, the Stetson loss was avenged, with FGCU beating the Hatters in overtime to clinch the NCAA trip. Jenna Cobb, an 8-point-per-game scorer throughout the course of the season, averaged 20.5 per game in FGCU’s final two outings of the A-Sun tournament, including 19 in the championship game.
”The way that everybody’s playing, everybody has confidence,” Cobb said. ”From the way we started out the season to now, we’re really, really clicking. Not only do I have personal confidence, but there’s a good team confidence in general as far as how we’re going to do.”
Oklahoma State started 17-1 before stumbling over the past six weeks, most recently falling 65-61 to Baylor in the Big 12 semifinals.
They haven’t won back-to-back games since mid-January, something they’ll have to change if they’re to make the third regional semifinal weekend in school history.
The Cowgirls are led by senior guard Tiffany Bias, who averages 14.2 points and 6.0 assists, and sophomore Brittney Martin, who averages 11.8 points and 8.2 rebounds.
But winning Saturday may come down to how well they defend the arc, and Oklahoma State does it quite well. The Cowgirls have held opponents to 26.7 percent from 3-point range, 10th in the nation and sixth-best in the tournament field.