Along with men’s team, Eagles soar closer to top of their sport
Disappointed? Most definitely. Discouraged? No way.
Losing big tournament games is part of the territory to which Florida Gulf Coast University’s women’s basketball team has ascended. After all, when you’re good enough to make the NCAA Championship Tournament, you know going in that only one of more than 60 teams goes home happy at the end.
That’s why even though a heartbreaking 62-60 loss to the University of Miami on its home Watsco Center court this past Saturday in FGCU’s first-round NCAA game hurts a lot, one has to appreciate the privilege of having a women’s basketball program that can compete with just about any at the sport’s highest level.
The Eagles’ head coach sure does appreciate the privilege of coaching such a team.
“This team has fought as hard as any I’ve had,” Coach Karl Smesko said of his Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament champions. “To be behind against a top-20 team on the road … to come back from that and essentially take it to the end against a great team, I’m very proud of our players.”
Overcoming a sluggish start, FGCU battled back all game after falling behind by as many as 13 points in the first half, tying the contest at 60-60 on Taylor Gradinjan’s 3-pointer from the baseline with just 10 seconds to play. A push up the floor by Miami, however, resulted in a game-winning layup with just 1.5 seconds on the clock.
While FGCU Nation took exception with two aggressive plays that were called in Miami’s favor in the waning seconds, junior forward Haley Laughter, who scored nine points, put the loss in perspective.
“Obviously we were frustrated with how the game ended, but we can’t really base the game on those last two calls,” Laughter said. “We just needed to make a couple more plays in the first half, when we weren’t attacking as much.
“We have been playing really well toward the end of the season, and we finally hit our peak. I think that’s just the most disappointing part, to have to see it end now.”
That’s also the sentiment from the men’s team, an A-Sun regular-season and tournament championship squad that also battled a top-20 team, Florida State, down to the wire in an 86-80 NCAA first-round loss in Orlando this past Thursday.
At the end of the day, FGCU’s men’s and women’s teams each won 26 games, swept the A-Sun tournament championships and battled in-state BCS powers to single-digit outcomes in the NCAA Tournament.
Disappointed? Yeah, we still are. Discouraged? Never. In fact, encouraged is a much better word when it comes to FGCU basketball’s future.