Former Temple Owl and NBA star Eddie Jones once said that home court changes everything. If you have home court, you're expected to win.
With support coming from the young, raucos Dirty Birds to the more experienced Silver Birds, Florida Gulf Coast basketball has created a home court advantage that many feel is second to none in the A-Sun. For the women’s team particularly the numbers bear out Jones’ philosophy, and they are counting on that edge when they take the court for the A-Sun Women’s Basketball Championship final on Sunday.
Since the Eagles joined the A-Sun in 2007, Alico Arena has become a wasteland for visiting opponents. In the last seven years, FGCU owns a home record of 99-8, including a 64-1 mark in A-Sun play and a 35-7 mark against non-conference opponents.
“It's great to have to have this experience in the A-Sun Championship in front of our fans that have been with us all of these years," Head Coach Karl Smesko said. "It's great to see the crowd out there."
From 2007 to 2011, as the Eagles were in the midst of reclassification from NCAA Division II to Division I status, they were ineligible for the A-Sun Championship and NCAA Tournament play.
Nonetheless, the Eagles went 59-4 during that period, including a 36-1 stretch in A-Sun contests and a 23-3 mark in non-conference action with against programs such as Memphis (2007-08), Florida (2008-09), Seton Hall (2010-11) and Indiana (2010-11). They also claimed the regular season titles in the 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons and currently own a 6-6 mark in postseason play that includes the WNIT, the NJIT and the NCAA Tournament.
Even despite their limited access for chances to achieve postseason success, the Eagles’ following did not diminish. Attendance numbers since 2007 indicate that FGCU has averaged 1627 at home games over the last seven years, growing to 1944 fans per game in the three years since the 2011-12 season when reclassification was completed. FGCU reached a high mark of 2,025 per game in 2010-11 and followed that with a program high of 2,185 per game in 2011-12.
Since 2011-12, the Eagles also own a 40-4 mark at home with a spotless 28-0 record in A-Sun games. In fact, you have to hearken back to Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009, for the last time FGCU lost a home A-Sun game. That was a 75-67 setback to ETSU.
Plus, in the last three years you can add more impressive non-conference wins to the total against the likes of Michigan State (2011-12), Virginia Tech (2011-12), and LSU (2012-13).
FGCU has not lost a home conference game in five seasons and have endured no more than two losses at home since 2007. Amazingly, no one on the current Eagles roster has ever experienced a loss in a conference game at Alico Arena.
“It's an amazing experience," FGCU's senior Sarah Hansen said. "Night in, night out our fans are here and they are loud. To be able to play in front of people that want you to win and love you is truly special."
So no matter the opponent for FGCU on Sunday, birds of all kinds will be on hand to do their part to get the Eagles to the next stop in the journey. An undefeated streak is once again on the line, along with an A-Sun Championship title and a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
The Eagles are counting on home court changing everything. And they will be expecting to win.