FORT MYERS, Fla.- In a match-up between the No.1 and No.2 ranked defenses in the country the No. 1 Eagles defense and No.1 national ranking prevailed 50-41 it front of 2359 people in Alico Arena.
In a game where there was not much scoring Valdosta St. got on the board on their opening possession with a lay-up by Khaleh Thomas. Katie Schrader (Sr., Fort Collins, Colo.) then knocked down a couple free throws to tie the game at two. FGCU and Valdosta continued trading baskets until the 12:05 mark of the first half this is when the Lady Blazers scored on another Thomas lay-up to give Valdosta a 7-6 lead. That is where the Eagles would put on another one of their defensive displays as Valdosta St. was held scoreless over the next four and half minutes. FGCU was not able to put that much together themselves and could only build a 9-7 lead. Thomas once again ended the scoreless streak with a free throw to make the score 9-8 before Schrader went on a 6-0 run by her self to give the Eagles a 15-8 lead. The lead was 18-11 at the 4:47 mark in the first half but Valdosta St. would not go away as they ended the half with a 7-2 run to go into the locker room down 20-18.
Schrader, Alex Nelson (Sr., Edinburgh, Scotland), and Delia De la Torre were the only Eagles to score in the first half. Schrader finished the half with 13, Nelson chipped in with 5 and De La Torre had two. FGCU shot 32% from the field and only 16% from behind the arc. Nina Risto was the Lady Blazers leading off the bench with seven.
Valdosta St. started the second half on a 7-2 run to build a 25-22 lead. Amanda Pierce (Jr., Altoona, PA) hit two free throws and Steffi Sorensen (Fr., Jacksonville, Fla.) hit one of her two threes to give the Eagles the lead back at 27-25. Over the next three minutes both teams traded baskets and the score was 28-27 FGCU at the 13:11 mark. The Eagles then went on a 6-0 run ending with another Sorensen three ball and the Eagles looked like they might pull away. The Lady Blazers would not go down without a fight though as they cut the lead once again to four at 34-30 with 7:26 left in the game. Sorensen then hit a jumper and made a foul shot while Ashley Haegele (Jr.,Imperial, Mo.) made one out of two from the line to give the Eagles another eight point lead 38-30. Valdosta St. still would not go away as they closed to with in 42-39 with 1:45 left in the game. On the Eagles next possession Sorensen turned the ball over with just one second on the shot clock but when Valdosta was bringing the ball up the court Leschelle Matthews was called for a traveling violation to give the ball back to the Eagles with one minute to go. The Eagles would convert on the turnover as Nelson drove down the lane got fouled and put it in the hoop to give the Eagles a 44-39 lead with 38 seconds left. Nelson knocked down the free throw to put the game away.
FGCU was led by Schrader's 17 and Nelson's 16 as the seniors did not want this to be their last game at FGCU. After going scoreless in the first half, Sorensen finished the game with 11 points and a team high six rebounds. The Eagles shot just 36% from the field for the game but held Valdosta to 34%. The Eagles were only 3-of-10 from behind the arc.
Valdosta St. was led by Khaleh Thomas's 16 the only Lady Blazer in double figures. Valdosta was forced into 18 turnovers and shot just 15% from three point range as they finished 2-of-13.
The Eagles will face #4 Delta St. in the South Region championship Monday night at 7:00 PM at Alico Arena. The winner will go to the NCAA Elite Eight Tournament in Kearney, NE starting March 21.