LakePoint, Ga. - Rosemarie Julien scored a season-high 25 points to lead the FGCU women's basketball team past Southeastern University 76-66 on Tuesday in Alico Arena.
With the win, FGCU is now 8-2 headed into Friday's showdown with #20 Kentucky in Alico Arena at 7 p.m. Southeastern, which has five NCAA Division I transfers, came into the game undefeated at 11-0. The game counted as an exhibition for them.
"They're an exceptional team. I think they have an excellent opportunity to win the national championship in their division," FGCU head coach Karl Smesko said. "They're not your typical non D-I. A lot of their roster is D-I transfers and some of them high D-I transfers. So, this was a really good team we played. I saw us do some good things, but there was also a lot of defensive breakdowns that we're going to need to fix. I thought our passing wasn't what it needed to be. I give them credit. They're aggressive. They're trapping, but we have to play stronger than what we showed at times today."
Julien (Port St. Lucie, Fla./Treasure Coast HS), who scored the first five points of the game for the Eagles, finished 8-for-18 from the field, including a 7-for-7 performance from the foul line. She added six rebounds and one assist while tying her season-high in field goals made. Her previous season-high in scoring (24) came against FIU on Nov. 15, which was also when she initially set her season-high for field goals made.
The senior, who was named the ASUN player of the week on Nov. 28, now has six straight games with at least 10 points, including eight of 10 overall this year. On top of that, she has now made 15 consecutive free throws dating back to the DePaul game on Nov. 23.
Taylor Gradinjan, a sixth-year senior who overcame two ACL injuries to begin her FGCU career, grabbed an offensive rebound and converted a layup in the final minute of the first half to eclipse 1,000 career points. In doing so, she became only the 10th player in program history to achieve the milestone and just the ninth in the Division-I era. In fact, she is now only seven points from passing Courtney Chihill (1,016, 2008-12) for the eighth most points in the Division-I era.
Following her first half layup, Gradinjan (Cudahy, Wis./Cudahy HS) buried a trio of 3-pointers in the second half to finish with 11 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal. She has now recorded double digit scoring games in two straight, three of the past four and seven overall this year. She has at least one 3-pointer in every game and at least three in six of 10 this year while shooting a career-high .427 from long range.
"We're really proud of what Taylor has accomplished in her time here," Smesko said. "She's been a very steady and great player for us. She's someone you can always count on. She plays both ends of the floor, and it was nice to hear the ovation she got when they announced her 1,000th point.
Erica Nelson (Kansas City, Mo./Lee Summit North HS) came within one point of her season-high in scoring, but made a career-high four 3-pointers while finishing 7-for-13 from the field. On top of that, she was just one shy of her season-high in assists with a team-high six, while tying her season-high with three steals.
Outside of those three, China Dow added seven points, nine rebounds, a season-high five assists and two steals as she eclipsed 750 points in her NCAA career, which started at Middle Tennessee State. Tytionia Adderly (Jupiter, Fla./Cardinal Newman HS) added seven points, 10 rebounds and a team-high four steals. It was her third game with at least 10 rebounds this year.
Nasrin Ulel finished fourth on the team in scoring with eight on 3-for-5 shooting. Lisa Zderadicka (Vienna, Austria/HAK Korneuburg) added three assists.
As a team, FGCU tied its season-high for steals with 11, which they also achieved against Akron on Nov. 18 and Siena on Nov. 20.
The key stretch in the game came over the first 10 minutes when FGCU outscored Southeastern 18-9. Over the final 30 minutes, the Eagles held only a one point advantage as Southeastern finished 16-for-29 from the field, including 5-for-9 from 3-point range, in the second half.
Early in that second half, FGCU held a 43-28 lead following a 3-pointer from Gradinjan. However, the Fire went on a 10-0 run over a three-minute stretch to pull within five on two occasions in the third quarter. Ulel (Murrietta, Calif./Murrietta HS)converted a layup in the final minute to give the Eagles a 10-point lead through three.
Southeastern scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to once again pull within five, but it was as close as they would get as Ulel made another layup, Nelson hit a 3-pointer and Julien made a pair of free throws to push the lead to 61-49 with 7:40 left. Moments later, the lead was down to seven, but Gradinjan, Dow (Louisville, Ky./Christian Academy of Louisville)and Nelson hit three straight from long range to push the lead to 16 and end Southeastern's chances.
FGCU improved to 2-0 all-time against Southeastern. This was the first matchup between the two teams in nearly 15 years, though.
The Eagles are now 144-23 all-time against in-state opponents over 15+ seasons, including a 2-0 record this year. The team has nine more Sunshine State foes on the schedule.
FGCU will recognize Gradinjan prior to Friday's game against Kentucky for her 1,000 points.
Tuesday's home matchup marked the first of three in Alico Arena this week for the Eagles, and it was the start of a stretch where they will play 10 of 11 at home through Jan. 15. Following the game against #20 Kentucky on Friday, FGCU will face undefeated Ave Maria on Sunday at 2 p.m.