VERMILLION, SD. - FGCU's record breaking season came to a close in the 2016 WNIT Championship Final as the Eagles fell to South Dakota, 71-65, on the road. FGCU ends the season with a Division I-era and Atlantic Sun Women's Basketball record 33 wins.
Kaneisha Atwater, playing in her final collegiate game, scored a game-high 25 points, including 19 in the fourth quarter to lead FGCU's offense. Taylor Gradinjan added 12 points, while Stephanie Haas scored 11 points. Whitney Knight, the two-time A-Sun Player of the Year, tied a career-high with nine blocks defensively for the Eagles.
The opening quarter was a back and fourth game from the start as South Dakota jumped out to an early 4-0 lead. FGCU responded with Taylor Gradinjan and Stephanie Haas who helped give the Eagles their first lead at 11-10. After Gradinjan knocked down her second three of the quarter, South Dakota's Abigail Fogg knocked down a buzzer beater to give the Coyotes a 19-18 lead after the opening quarter.
The second quarter was dominated by defense as both teams struggled to score. Whitney Knight totaled six blocks in the first half, with three of them coming in the second quarter. Haas scored on a couple of layups to move in double figures for the fourth time in this WNIT postseason run. Her patented scoop layup gave the Eagles a 22-21 lead that expanded to 25-21 on a Jaime Gluesing three-pointer. Once again the Coyotes responded with a late surge as they outscored the Eagles 10-2 down the stretch to take a 31-27 lead into the break.
The Coyotes came out of the locker room the sharper team as they increased their lead to nine points before the Eagles scored after four minutes. Knight sparked an FGCU offensive run when she connected on her first triple of the game to cut the double-digit lead back down to eight. DyTiesha Dunson, the A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year, scored four-straight points as the Eagles looked to cut into the deficit. At the end of the third, South Dakota got a layup from Fogg to take a 45-38 lead into the final 10 minutes.
In the fourth quarter, FGCU got as close as two points in the opening minutes as Gradinjan and Knight connected on back-to-back layups, while Knight continued her defensive dominance with her eighth block in the early stages of the fourth quarter. After the Coyotes again extended the lead, Atwater began to take over on the offensive end for the Eagles. The senior scored 19 straight FGCU points as Atwater left it all on the line in the final quarter and kept the Eagles within striking distance. But the Coyotes balanced scoring was too much to overcome for FGCU. Nine different Coyotes scored, and a three by Tia Hemiller at the 1:36 mark but the Coyotes up by nine.
FGCU closes the season with a 33-6 record, the most wins in a single season in A-Sun history and in FGCU Division I program history. The Eagles became the first A-Sun team to play in the Championship game of the WNIT today. It marked the final game for eight seniors, who helped lift the Eagles to six postseason wins over the past two seasons combined.
FGCU vs. South Dakota WNIT Tournament Notes
- Whitney Knight closed out her tremendous career by tying her career-high with nine blocks today. She finishes with an A-Sun career record of 333 blocks.
- Kaneisha Atwater scored a team-high 25 points today, her ninth 20-point game of the season, 15th of her career. She closes her career with 1,294 career points at FGCU, which ranks 44th in the A-Sun career scoring list.
- Stephanie Haas scored 11 points, her fourth double-digit scoring game of the WNIT postseason run. She closes her career as a two-time A-Sun Scholar-Athlete of the Year and 1,115 career points.
- DyTiesha Dunson dished out four assists today and leaves FGCU as the all-time career assist leader. She finished with 454 career assists.
- Kaneisha Atwater and Whitney Knight were rewarded for their outstanding play throughout the WNIT postseason tournament by being named to the All-Tournament Team.
FGCU Records Set in 2015-16 Season
- Most wins in A-Sun single-season history (33)
- Most games played in a single season by an A-Sun team (39)
- First A-Sun team to allow under 50.0 points per game defensively
- Whitney Knight becomes A-Sun all-time career blocks leader (333)
- FGCU becomes first A-Sun team to win five postseason games in a single season
- Eagles have connected on 372 three pointers, most in a single season by an A-Sun team