Norse Women Upset Florida Gulf Coast in Big Win at Home
The Northern Kentucky University women's basketball team handed Florida Gulf Coast its first regular-season Atlantic Sun Conference loss since the 2010-11 season with a 63-43 victory on Saturday at The Bank of Kentucky Center.
Kayla Thacker scored 16 of her game-high 22 points in the first half to lead NKU past FGCU, which had not suffered a conference setback since falling to South Carolina Upstate on Feb. 28, 2011, and saw its 44-game streak snapped.
The senior guard from Mt. Washington, Ky., finished 8-for-10 from the floor, including a perfect 6-for-6 in the opening 20 minutes, and 4-for-5 from behind the 3-point arc. She also grabbed a game-high nine rebounds as the Norse won the battle on the boards by a 36-23 margin to remain perfect (6-0) on the year when outrebounding the opponent.
"I hadn't said this to our team or to Kayla, but even before the Stetson game this week, during practice, I thought Kayla's leadership skills took on a whole new level," NKU head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. "She started really communicating more so than ever – encouraging her teammates.
"You could tell that it really meant something to her. So whatever she did or whatever our upperclassmen did or whatever all our kids did was really a tribute to how much they wanted to compete. That's really what it all comes down to. If you want to compete, then the sky's the limit for you."
The first half was a story of runs. Thacker scored the first seven NKU points, and the Norse used a 7-0 spurt to take a 9-4 lead with 14:37 left before the break. FGCU later took advantage of a 12-0 run to regain the lead at 21-13 with 7:19 left in the half, capped by a layup by Katie Meador, which was the largest deficit of the game for the Norse.
NKU, however, closed the half with a 19-0 run to take a 32-21 advantage into halftime as the defense held FGCU scoreless after the Meador layup.
"We just had so much energy," Thacker said. "Before the game even started, we were a completely different team. We were so pumped, and we were so ready. We just knew that after that loss on Thursday (to Stetson), we were not going to do that again – now or ever. We were just so energized and communicating. I think that helped us out a lot."
The Norse shot 52.2 percent from the field in the first half while limiting the Eagles to just 32 percent. The NKU defense forced three shot clock violations and took advantage of 10 Eagle turnovers in the opening stanza to build its halftime lead.
Thacker drained a 3-pointer and Kelley Wiegman converted a layup to open the second half to stretch the Norse advantage to 37-21 before FGCU ended its scoring drought on two free throws by Sarah Hansen with 18:17 left on the clock.
The Norse defense did not back down in the second half, and back-to-back 3-point field goals by Christine Roush and Lauren White gave NKU its largest lead of the game at 55-33 with 7:17 remaining in the game before cruising to the win.
"I thought our kids played extremely hard," Plitzuweit said. "I don't know that they could have played any harder or any better defensively. I feel really fortunate to compete with Florida Gulf Coast. They're such a good program – they've been at the top of the conference for so long. And then, to find a way to pull it out was very special for our kids. All the credit goes to our players because I thought they played as hard as they could. I thought we did as good of a job as we've done in two years communicating."
The Norse finished the night 48.9 percent from the floor after going 11-for-24 in the second half and shot 50 percent (9-for-18) from long range. NKU, which improved to 11-9 overall and 7-2 in the Atlantic Sun, forced 21 FGCU turnovers and scored 19 points off those miscues as the Norse held the Eagles to their lowest point total of the season.
Wiegman finished with 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the floor for the Norse, while Kaitlyn Gerrety added six points and eight rebounds. White scored seven points and dished out a career-high seven assists against FGCU, which held a 2-0 advantage in the all-time series against the Norse entering the game.
Whitney Knight led the way for the Eagles, which fell to 14-7 overall and 8-1 in the Atlantic Sun, with 19 points and four blocked shots. Meador finished with eight points and five rebounds on the night, while Hansen, who entered the contest averaging 13.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and was named the conference preseason Player of the Year, was limited to just six points and four rebounds.
"The feeling is incredible," Thacker said. "We're out there – a shot goes in and all of us are cheering. You could feel the bench cheering. We're all out on the court high-fiving and still cheering running down the court and talking on defense about who we have. It's an amazing feeling knowing that your team is there for you, backing you up 100 percent. It's awesome."
NKU hits the road for a pair of Atlantic Sun games next week, starting with a 7 p.m. contest Thursday against Mercer in Macon, Ga. The Norse will then take on Kennesaw State on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Kennesaw, Ga. Links to live stats, video and audio will be available at nkunorse.com.