By DANIEL SHIRLEY
The Florida Golf Coast women’s basketball team needs one more win to clinch its second straight General Shale A-Sun Basketball Championship title.
With that comes an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament that goes along with the conference championship title.
Even if the Eagles were upset in the championship game Saturday, they have done enough to earn consideration for an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament. Their strong play continued Friday with a 73-44 win over North Florida in the semifinals.
The Eagles will face either Mercer or Stetson in the championship game at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“The first half was excellent. I was a little surprised, because our shoot around this morning was a little sloppy,” Florida Gulf Coast Head Coach Karl Smesko said. “We didn’t have a lot of energy that I would like. But we came out in the first half with a lot of emotion and made a lot of plays early.
“The last game, people were like, ‘Oh you look … it wasn’t as good, it wasn’t the greatest effort. Is that that the best you can play?’ It’s all day-to-day. We’re just hoping that tomorrow we have a great effort from everyone and a great focus tonight to get prepared.
“If we do as well as we can do, I will feel good about it … if everyone says, yes, we play as a team and we give our best effort.”
The Eagles (27-5) have made a habit out of that in recent years.
Florida Gulf Coast became the first team in A-Sun history to finish undefeated in conference play in regular-season play in consecutive seasons, and it has won 41 straight games against conference competition. The Eagles will carry a 21-game winning streak this season into Saturday’s championship game, and they are 5-0 in their A-Sun tournament history.
But the Eagles haven’t just been strong in conference play. During the regular season, they beat LSU from the SEC and Virginia Tech from the ACC.
And they appear to be putting their best foot forward at the end of the season.
“You have to, or you go home,” senior Brittany Kennedy said. “We’re definitely jelling as a team, and tonight was a great team win. There are still improvements out there, so we have to continue to get better and have a big game tomorrow.”
It would be hard for any team to improve on Florida Gulf Coast’s performance in the first half on Friday.
The Eagles shot 56.3 percent from the floor (18-of-32), including 47.1 percent (8-of-17) from 3-point range, and led by 20 points against a North Florida team that played them tough during the regular season.
The Ospreys stayed within 11 and six in the two meetings during the season but trailed by as many as 31 in Friday’s game.
Joyce Iamstrong led the way with 22 points, tying a tournament record by shooting 100 percent from the floor – 9-for-9, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range. Jaime Gluesing added 13, and Kennedy had 12.
As a team the Eagles set a new A-Sun Championship record, knocking down a dozen three-pointers. The previous mark of 11 in a game was set by Jacksonville State against Jacksonville in 2000 and most recently tied by FGCU in the semifinals and the finals of the 2012 Championship.
A-Sun Player of the Year Sarah Hansen had seven but played only 20 minutes, and she contributed seven rebounds, three steals and two assists and played terrific defense in the post.
“We came here to do something, and we’re trying to accomplish it,” Hansen said. “That’s what is in the front of everyone’s mind -- come out and play the game tomorrow and do what we have to do to take care of business.”