FGCU Drops Heartbreaker In NCAA Tournament First Round To Miami, 62-60

Championship Info | Bracket 

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Battling all day to overcome a double-figure deficit on the road in its NCAA Tournament First Round matchup, the 13th-seeded FGCU women's basketball team (26-9) received a game-tying 3-pointer from Taylor Gradinjan with 10 seconds remaining, but a controversial ending gave 4th-seeded and host Miami (24-8) a 62-60 win on Saturday.
After hitting the baseline 3-pointer to tie the contest at 60-60, Gradinjan (Cudahy, Wis./Cudahy HS) appeared to draw an offensive foul on Miami's Keyona Hayes with 1.5 seconds remaining. However, despite Gradinjan having her feet set outside the restricted area and Hayes lowering her shoulder, no call was made as Hayes converted the layup.
Then on the ensuing possession, Jordin Alexander appeared to be pushed while receiving an inbounds pass under the Miami hoop, but again no call was made, and the ball went out of bounds as time expired.
After shooting just 29 percent (10-34) from the floor in the 1st half, the Eagles bounced back with a 47-percent performance (14-30) in the 2nd half as they erased – but ultimately couldn't totally overcome – a 13-point deficit.
Alexander (Fishesr, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern HS/Brown) led a trio of FGCU double-figure scorers with 11 points, team-best five assists and team-high-tying five rebounds. Rosemarie Julien added 10 points and five rebounds, and China Dow (Louisville, Ky./Christian Academy of Louisville/Middle Tennessee State) tallied 10 points – eight of which came in the 2nd half.
"Obviously it was a very disappointing ending. We came here with the idea that we were going to win and advance," stated FGCU head coach Karl Smesko. "We didn't play or shoot particularly well in the 1st half, and it was my fault that we took a little bit of time to adjust to their 1-3-1 zone. We were much better in the closing minutes of the half and then in the 2nd half as well.
"But I couldn't be more proud of our kids for fighting back. We just hung around, and when we started playing like we're capable of, it was a game until literally the last second. I'm really proud of our team, but I'm disappointed that we don't get a chance to continue playing because I really like how we're playing right now."
Playing in its fourth NCAA Tournament in six years, FGCU demonstrated its composure and fight to battle out of the double-figure deficit, and eventually took its first lead of the day since the 1st quarter on an Alexander free throw with 1:53 to play. However, Miami had a response and built a 60-57 lead in the final 15 seconds before Gradinjan's heroics.
Struggling with her shot most of the game, Gradinjan – who was just 2-10 from 3-point range at the time – stepped up and delivered the game-tying 3 after Dow drove and kicked to the baseline in front of the Green and Blue-clad spectators.
Battling a pressing and long Miami zone most of the contest, FGCU was only outscored in the paint, 28-26 – with the final two for UM coming off the controversial layup in the closing seconds. FGCU limited its mistakes, committing just 12 turnovers compared with Miami's 20, and finished with a 15-12 edge in second-chance points.
After jumping out to an 11-8 lead, Miami closed the 1st quarter on a mini run and took a 14-13 lead after 10 minutes. That mini run turned into a longer, extended stretch by the Hurricanes, who eventually built a 28-15 lead with 3 minutes remaining in the half.
However, the Eagles closed the opening stanza on an extremely important 7-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Haley Laughter (Asheville, N.C./Carolina Day School) – who finished with nine points for the game – right in front of the Miami bench, to make their deficit just six, 28-22, at the intermission. That deficit could have been much worse for the Green and Blue as FGCU – which entered the game leading the nation in 3-pointers made – shot just 2-18 from 3-point range in the opening 20 minutes.
Despite being undersized against the at-large ACC selection and connecting on just 29 percent of its shots in the 1st half, FGCU managed to stay within striking distance and actually out-scored the Hurricanes in the paint through the first two quarters, 14-12.
Miami opened the 2nd half on a 6-0 run to extend back to a 12-point lead, 34-22, but the Eagles once again got some crucial stops at the defensive end and started making shots from long range as they got within four at the end of the 3rd quarter, 43-39.
The Eagles continued to chip away, and on a Julien (Port St. Lucie, Fla./Treasure Coast HS/Chipola College) baseline 3-pointer at the 7:58 mark of the 4th quarter trimmed the margin to just two, 45-43, electrifying the Green and Blue bench and the extremely vocal supporters directly across from them.
Just a few minutes later, Julien gave them a reason to erupt again and she hit a 3-pointer from the wing to tie the contest at 51-51 with just over 4 minutes to play. However, after a Miami timeout, Julien picked up her 5th foul with 3:55 left, sending FGCU's leading scorer on the day – at the time – and the year to the bench.
Unfazed, the Eagles continued to battle as the two sides were tied three times, and the lead changed hands on four occasions in the final quarter alone.
Hayes led all scorers with 16 points and a game-best 10 rebounds for Miami, which shot 42.3 percent (22-52) from the floor for the game. Emese Hof added 14 points for the Hurricanes, who connected on just one of 14 3-point attempts (7 percent) for the day.
After the poor 1st half from 3-point range for the Eagles, they connected on 7 of 16 attempts in the 2nd half. However, the end result was another tough NCAA Tournament setback for FGCU. In their now five all-time NCAA Tournament games, the Eagles are 1-4, but three of the four losses have come by a total of 10 points, and two of those went to overtime.
The contest brings to an end another terrific season by the Eagles, who combined with the men's team won 52 games against just 17 losses, swept both ASUN Tournament championships and battled in-state BCS powers to single-digit outcomes in the NCAA Tournament.

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