The Stetson women's basketball team advanced to their third straight Atlantic Sun Conference championship game by defeating Mercer 67-52 in the A-Sun semifinals Friday afternoon at Hawkins Arena.
Sasha Sims scored a team-high 19 points and Victoria McGowan added a 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Hatters (23-8) who will now face top-seeded FGCU at 5:30 pm Saturday with a trip to the NCAA Tournament at stake.
The game will be televised on CSS-TV with internet coverage on ASun.TV and ESPN3.com only for viewers outside of the CSS broadcast area.
Stetson, which tied a school-record with its 23rd win of the season, received a 17-point, eight-rebound effort from Shanasa Sanders and 10 points from Cherisse Burris off the bench.
"It was a great game," Stetson head coach Lynn Bria said. "I thought overall our offense and defense were good. We played a little bit of a zone in the first half, but I felt like the zone bothered them in the second half and that was the difference."
A slow offensive start for both teams led to a 10-10 tie through the first 12 minutes of the game. McGowan broke the tie with a three-point play, and Sims converted a fastbreak lay-up to put Stetson ahead 15-10 at the 6:47 mark. Mercer fought back, pulling within 22-21 with a minute remaining in the half, but Sims drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Hatters a 25-21 halftime lead.
It was just one of two three-point field goals in the game for Stetson (2-19).
"I'm glad the shot went in because it seemed like nothing else did," Sims said. "I think it gave us a little boost (going into halftime)."
Mercer opened the second half on an 8-2 run to take a 29-27 lead. After three free throws put Stetson back ahead by one, Precious Bridges scored two of her game-high 24 points to give the Bears what would be their final lead at 31-30.
The Hatters surged into the lead as Burris collected back-to-back buckets in the post and Sanders followed with a 15-foot jumper forcing Mercer to call a 30 second timeout.
"Cherisse was fantastic," Bria said. "She was so aggressive and just attacked the basket. She was a big difference especially in the second half. She got us a few key baskets when (Mercer) closed the gap."
Stetson's offense continued to flow, and a brilliant tic-tac-toe passing play between McGowan, Jama Sharp and Sanders capped a 10-0 run and put the Hatters ahead 50-38 at the 8:41 mark.
Stetson maintained the double-digit lead the rest of the game and closed out the 15-point victory.
"I thought in the first half we settled a lot for jumpers," Bria said. "I don't think we attacked the basket very well. In the second half we did a much better job of attacking and getting in the paint."
While the three-point shot was not falling for the Hatters, Stetson did score 42 points in the paint and got to the free throw line 19 times.
"I think we were a little bit passive (in the first half)," Sims said. "I think we did a good job of responding once again in the second half."
McGowan became just third player in school history and 25th player in A-Sun history to surpass 1500 career points. It was also her 14th career double-double performance and fifth this season.
Stetson will now turn its attention to FGCU, which won the other women's semifinal game on Friday, 73-44 over North Florida.
"This is our last go-around as seniors, so our goal is to lock down on defense, execute on offense and do the little things we need to do to get the win tomorrow," Sanders said.
Notes: Stetson is one of six teams all-time to advance to three straight A-Sun title games, and the first since ETSU did it four straight years from 2007-10 ... The Hatters have clinched a postseason berth (NCAA or WNIT) for the third straight year.