It's no big surprise that Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast will be facing-off for the Atlantic Sun Conference championship for the second straight year, but the Hatters are hoping to flip the script from last season and come away with their fourth A-Sun title in school history.
No. 2 seed Stetson (23-8) and no. 1 seed FGCU (27-5) will vie for the conference championship and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament at 5:30 p.m. Saturday evening at Hawkins Arena. The game will be televised by CSS with internet coverage on ESPN3 and ASun.TV outside of the CSS broadcast area.
(Florida residents without CSS may still experience a blackout on ESPN3 but can still watch the game on ASun.TV or listen on myam1230.com.)
The Hatters return to the A-Sun title game for the third consecutive year. Two years ago, Stetson defeated Jacksonville 69-50 to win the championship as Victoria McGowan was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
Last year the Hatters came up short in their repeat bid, falling to FGCU 67-39.
After defeating ETSU in Wednesday's quarterfinals and Mercer in Friday's semifinals, the Hatters have earned another shot at the title.
"I think (advancing three straight years) is very special, especially coming from Stetson," McGowan said. "As seniors we started a tradition and we have been through a lot together. We just want to finish it out with a championship win."
While the Hatters will be competing with nearly all of the same players from last year's squad, head coach Lynn Bria says this year's team plays a different style.
"We are a different team than last year and I think overall we are a more well-rounded team," Bria said. "This group is a year older, they are more mature, and we share the ball more. It plays more to the strengths of our team."
Both Stetson and FGCU have had highly successful seasons. The Hatters have equaled their school record with 23 victories including 16 wins against conference opponents.
FGCU, meanwhile, has won 27 games this season including the last 21 in a row. In addition, the Eagles have won 41 consecutive regular season and tournament games against A-Sun opponents over the past two seasons.
The Hatters hope to end that streak Saturday.
"I think they are great team, but we have confidence in ourselves," McGowan said. "We are not going to lay down and die and let them walk all over us. We are going to come out and play hard. We have to play a good game tomorrow."
The two teams met twice during the regular season with similar results; the Eagles won by 19 points in Fort Myers in January and claimed a 17-point victory in DeLand in February.
One of the key statistics in the first meeting was rebounding as FGCU owned a 43-29 advantage on the boards. In the second match-up, it was a decisive 40-22 edge in points in the paint that helped lift FGCU to the win.
"Tomorrow our number one goal is to leave with the championship," senior Shanasa Sanders said. "We need to lock down on defense, execute on offense and do the little things we need to do to get the win tomorrow."
If they do, Stetson will be dancing all the way to the NCAA Tournament.