FGCU women win Gulf Coast Showcase opener, will face Iowa and Caitlin Clark in semifinals (2024)

Craig Handel| Special to The News-Press

It’s not every day that you can beat a foe that shoots 55 percent.

But that’s part of the magic of the FGCU women’s basketball team.

The Eagles overcame Delaware’s torrid shooting to beat the Blue Hens 83-68 in the Gulf Coast Showcase on Friday at Hertz Arena.

The Eagles (4-1) will face Iowa, led by superstar Caitlin Clark, in the semifinals on Saturday. The Hawkeyes beat Purdue-Fort Wayne 98-59 on Friday behind 29 points and eight assists by Clark.

How to watch: What channel is Caitlin Clark, Iowa on? Times, TV schedule for women's Gulf Coast Showcase

The Eagles played stingy defense. Delaware’s 26 turnovers led to 27 points in transition. They also shot well themselves (30-of-62 for 48 percent) while making 13 3-pointers and 16 layups.

“The turnover margin was key,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. “They shot exceptionally well. We kind of backed up when they put up 3s. I wasn’t as concerned with the 2s. They shot some tough fadeaways.

“But we allowed too many good looks on 3s, which allowed them to make a run in the fourth quarter. But we regained our composure.”

Maddie Antenucci led FGCU with 20 points while Atlantic Sun Newcomer of the Week Dolly Cairns had five 3-pointers and 15 points along with Uju Ezeudu. Brylee Bartram added 11 points.

“FGCU loves to shoot 3s so if they take that way, we’ll get layups and we also caught them on conversions,” Antenucci said.

Playing an aggressive zone early, Delaware took an early 10-5 lead

FGCU went on a 14-0 run in the first quarter as Delaware went scoreless for more than four minutes and committed turnovers on six straight possessions. The Eagles led 19-13 after the first quarter.

“We have the ability to get runs and it was good we had one early because we looked a little shaky,” Smesko said. “We settled in and could get good shots because we moved the ball where we wanted to move it.”

Despite shooting 75 percent, the Blue Hens found themselves down 36-26 because of 12 turnovers.

“We stuck to our principles,” Antenucci said. “We just took every possession seriously and made a few adjustments.”

The Eagles led by as much as 20 in the third quarter but Delaware’s shooting helped it rally.

The Blue Hens drew within 67-60 in the fourth quarter but FGCU hit the Blue Hens with another 10-2 spurt to put it away.

Gulf Coast Showcase: With Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark in town, Fort Myers a hotbed of NCAA women's basketball

And now comes Iowa.

“They’ll be more black jerseys than I’m used to,” Smesko joked. “Hopefully, with this being a great thing for basketball in this area, everybody finds out and we sell out with a huge walkup.”

Smesko attended last year’s Final Four when phenom Clark led the Hawkeyes to the Final Four.

“In the Final Four, she scored like 40 and beat South Carolina, which is like the best defensive team in the nation,” Smesko said. “She’s a great player.”

“She’s a national player of the year and a projected No. 1 pick in the draft. She has a Steph Curry mentality. She shares the ball but has an aggressive look at the basket. She’s the toughest person to guard in college. We’ll have a one-day prep for a top-five team in the nation.”

Smesko said Clark is doing things you see in the NBA.

“She can put it anywhere,” he said. “She’ll be dribbling, looking like she’s attacking the basket only to skip it to the corner like you see in the NBA. You don’t see that in the college game. She has a different mentality than most people.”

Antenucci anticipates guarding Clark but she thinks it could be by committee.

“We’re very versatile, which makes it easier,” she said. “It’ll be so fun, a great opportunity. I’m so excited for it.”

Iowa 98, Purdue Fort Wayne 59

Women’s basketball star Caitlin Clark proved to be as good as advertised.

And No. 5 Iowa isn’t bad, either.

The Hawkeyes pulled away from Purdue Fort Wayne in the Gulf Coast Showcase on Friday night before 3,313 fans at Hertz Arena.

Iowa (5-1) will play FGCU in the Gulf Coast Showcase semifinals on Saturday.

“They’re such a good program,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “Their 3-point system makes you pay. They’re a team you never hope to see in the NCAA Tournament because you know how well they play in the tournament. We certainly have our work cut out for us.”

The teams combined for 24 threes on Friday. What’s the over/under on triples Saturday?

“Oh my,” Bluder said before chuckling, then adding, “I don’t talk about gambling at Iowa.”

In a gambling sting at Iowa and Iowa State this summer and fall, more than a dozen players were charged with other players being suspended for games. Ironically, some of the online bets were on the Iowa women’s basketball games in the Final Four.

Playing 23 minutes, Clark had 29 points, eight assists and seven 3-pointers.

Clark wasn’t made available to the media after the game.

Sharon Goodman added 16 points and Hannah Stuelke 13 for Iowa.

The Hawkeyes hit 55.6 percent of their shots (35-of-63) while also having a 43-31 margin in rebounds.

“I thought our 3-point defense was good,” Bluder said. “We shot the ball well and got to the free-throw line. The fans were tremendous. It was like Hawkeye-Carver (Arena) South.”

Purdue Fort Wayne (2-2) didn’t look awed early as it matched Iowa point-for-point. However, an 11-0 Hawkeyes run gave them a double-digit lead in the first quarter that kept increasing.

Iowa led 52-36 at halftime.

“We found out we were playing Iowa in July and we practiced that day,” IPFW coach Maria Marchesano said. “We watch the Big Ten a lot.

“But we didn’t execute on a lot of things. They threw different things at us and we were not on the same page. Maybe it was the big arena, maybe it was the aura of being around her. But our kids were kicking themselves in the butt after giving up 52 in the first half.”

Despite having 10 days to prepare for Iowa, Marchesano said her players had a hard time finding Clark, especially in transition, and she made them pay. She had 19 of her 29 points at halftime.

But it’s the seven first-half assists, which caught the IPFW coach’s attention.

“Her passing is extremely underrated,” Marchesano said. “She sees things on the court before they happen. She’s passing the ball before a teammate is open. That’s pretty phenomenal.”

Clark, who hit her first two 3-pointers on Iowa’s first two possessions in the second half, played less than seven minutes in the third and fourth quarters, partly because of the score, partly because the Hawkeyes have two more games left and partly because Bluder doesn’t want her team relying on her too much.

“And I have a lot of faith in our bench,” Bluder said.

Kansas State 77, Western Kentucky 61

The No. 16 ranked Wildcats used a hot-shooting second quarter to grab control of Friday’s first-round matchup against the Lady Toppers.

Kansas State (5-0) outscored Western Kentucky (5-2) 25-9 in the second quarter, knocking down 10-of-13 shots from the field. Serena Sundell led the Wildcats with 21 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists while Ayoka Lee added 16 points and two blocked shots.

Kansas State held the Lady Toppers to just 33 percent shooting from the field, including 3-of-19 on 3-point attempts. Acacia Hayes finished with a game-high 29 points for Western Kentucky and added five rebounds and five steals.

North Carolina 54, Vermont 51

The No. 18 ranked Tar Heels held off an upset attempt by the Catamounts Friday to advance to the semifinals of the Gulf Coast Showcase.

North Carolina (5-0) trailed by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter but Deja Kelly and Kayla McPherson combined for 12 points in the final six minutes to allow the Tar Heels to escape.

Kelly finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and three steals while Alyssa Ustby added 15 points and 10 rebounds for North Carolina, who shot just 32.8 percent from the field, including 2-of-16 from the 3-point line, and missed 14 of 26 free throw tries.

Emma Utterback led Vermont (3-2) with 18 points and five assists.

North Carolina will face No. 16 Kansas State (5-0) at 5 p.m. Saturday.

FGCU women win Gulf Coast Showcase opener, will face Iowa and Caitlin Clark in semifinals (2024)


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