Sugar Bears fall in title game

Two halves. Two gameplans. No right answers.

That was the story of the ASUN women's basketball championship game as now eight-time defending conference champion Florida Gulf Coast took advantage of everything the University of Central Arkansas gave it to win 76-47 Saturday night at Alico Arena in Fort Myers, Fla.

"Give credit to Florida Gulf Coast, obviously the best team in this league," UCA Coach Tony Kemper said. "I think they proved that through the regular season, and they proved it through the tournament as well.

"I hope we learned things from being in this situation and, also, [I hope we] become hungry about figuring out how to close the gap between us and where we want to go."

The Eagles (29-4) blitzed the Sugar Bears (21-11) out of the gate to take a 21-11 lead at the end of the first quarter thanks to a 12-0 run.

ASUN Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Emani Jefferson led Florida Gulf Coast's offense from the start. She entered halftime with 6 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.

To complement that attacking offense, Dolly Cairns hit 2 of the Eagles' 4 first-half three-pointers for a team-high 8 points at the break.

In the second half, Kemper and his staff changed its coverage on ball screens. It gave Cheyenne Banks and Elizabeth Abiara more help inside, but came at a cost. Florida Gulf Coast almost immediately picked up on the difference and started firing from deep.

Before the break, UCA dared Ajulu Thatha to take 8 of Florida Gulf Coast's 23 attempts from three-point range, and she hit just one of them. In the second half, she didn't attempt a shot. Instead, Jefferson, Cairns, Sofia Persson and Uju Ezeudu combined to make 9 of 17 as the Eagles outscored UCA 44-28 in that time.

Of Florida Gulf Coast's 76 points, 42 (55%) came from behind the arc. Twenty-two (29%) came on layups.

Jefferson led all scorers with 20 points, including 3 three-pointers. Cairns hit four to get her to 14 points, and Ezeudu scored 11 points to go with her team-high 10 rebounds.

Bree Stephens and Kinley Fisher each scored 11 points to lead UCA, who shot 19.2% from three-point range. Jade Upshaw, Randrea Wright and Leah Mafua combined for 15 points on 5-of-25 shooting from the field and 1-of-11 shooting from deep.

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