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FGCu women to play for WNIT title

April 1, 2016
Special to the Breeze , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

In front of a record-setting crowd of 4,633 fans, the FGCU women's basketball team defeated Michigan 71-62 Thursday night in the WNIT semifinals at Alico Arena.

The victory in the final home game of the season, the Eagles (33-5) move on to its first-ever WNIT Championship Saturday at South Dakota. The championship game is scheduled for 3 p.m. and will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network.

"It was a great defensive effort against a great offensive team," said head coach Karl Smesko. "Now we're excited to get to play for the WNIT Championship. The crowd was exceptional tonight. It was a huge advantage for us to have it here with that type of atmosphere. I'm sure it's the type of game that these players will remember for a long time."

The Eagles scored the first points of the game with a signature 3-pointer but the Wolverines responded with nine-straight points to take the lead. The early goings favored the visiting team as the Eagles were unable to slow the Wolverines and Michigan took a 9-3 lead. With back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the first quarter, the Eagles reclaimed the lead and the game's momentum.

FGCU went into halftime with a 28-22 advantage and extended it to a game-high 10 points in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Michigan did not back down and used a 5-0 run to end the quarter, bringing the outcome to the final 10 minutes. The Wolverines tied the game quickly to open the fourth period but the Eagles responded to each Michigan advance. The teams traded baskets down the stretch before a long-range shot with under three minutes to play gave Michigan a 60-59 lead.

Senior Stephanie Haas (Avon Lake, Ohio/Magnificat High School) knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner on the team's next possession, erupting the crowd of over 4,600 and giving the Green and Blue control again. Kaneisha Atwater (Fort Pierce, Fla./Fort Pierce-Westwood High School/VCU) added another 3-pointer on the next time down the court, giving FGCU a five-point advantage with 90 seconds to go. FGCU outscored Michigan 6-2 in the final minute with six makes from the free throw line and pulled away with the 71-62 victory.

Haas led all players with a season-high 20 points against the Big Ten foe. The senior went 7-for-9 from the floor and pulled down three rebounds. Atwater and Whitney Knight (Winston-Salem, N.C./R.J. Reynolds High School) contributed 18 and 17 points, respectively with Atwater leading the rebounding effort with seven.

As a unit, the Eagles shot 48.1 percent and limited the Wolverines to a 37.3 percent mark from the floor. Michigan outrebounded FGCU 45-25 and produced 18 second-chance points but the Eagles scored 20 points on Michigan's 14 turnovers and knocked down 11 3-pointers for the edge.

The win stands as the team's fourth win over a power conference opponent this season as the Eagles previously defeated Arizona, Auburn and Wake Forest. FGCU finishes the home season with a record of 19-3 at Alico Arena and extends its program-record win total to 33.

The team will endure a quick turnaround with the WNIT Championship against South Dakota set for Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. Further details on the Michigan contest and the upcoming championship game will be available at FGCUAthletics.com Friday.

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