Siegrist leads Villanova into Sweet 16 for second time ever

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VILLANOVA, Pa. – As Maddy Siegrist hugged and high-fived every Villanova fan down the front row of seats in a wild celebration following the biggest win of her career, it was hard for the All-American not to think about far the Wildcats have come in just four seasons.

Siegrist’s journey saw her dominate as the program’s career leading scorer, lead Villanova into the kind of elite team that can pack a postseason game in their own house and now this milestone, a Sweet 16 berth for the first time in 20 years.

“Everyone wants to leave their mark,” Siegrist said.

Siegrist sure left hers on the Main Line.

Siegrist scored 31 points, had four blocks, four steals and sent the winningest team in Villanova history into the Sweet 16 for the second time in program history with a 76-57 win over 12th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast on Monday night.

“What Maddy has done and continues to do is off the charts,” coach Denise Dillon said.

The fourth-seeded Wildcats (30-6) won their record 30th game and celebrated the March Madness milestone in front of another packed house at the Pavilion. Siegrist, the first-team AP All-American, made 13 of 24 shots in what was likely her final home game. The four-year star has left some wiggle room that she could return for a fifth season, but all signs point toward her playing in the WNBA this summer.

One thing is sure, Siegrist is headed to the Sweet 16.

The Wildcats are going for the first time since the 2003 team reached the Elite Eight — the coach of that team, Harry Perretta, watched this one from behind the basket — and they will No. 9 Miami, which upset No. 1 seed Indiana.

“To me, Villanova is a Final Four-level team,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they get there.”

He’s not the only one. President Joe Biden picked the Wildcats to win it all in his March Madness bracket.

One sign from the student section said it all, “It’s On! March Maddyness.” Another fan shouted during halftime warmups, “No one can guard you, Maddy!”

Siegrist checked out to a rousing standing ovation with 1:57 left in the game and the star forward hugged every teammate down the bench. Her teammates mobbed her after the final horn as the Wildcats danced on the court and flashed the “V” sign for their fans.

“If this is my last game at home, this is a great way to go out,” Siegrist said.

Siegrist sank two free throws with 5:18 left in the third quarter to give her 21 points, which made it 36 straight games this season for the two-time Big East Player of the Year with at least 20 points.

The Wildcats actually scored the first eight points of the game before Siegrist got on the board. Siegrist may be the star who topped 1,000 points this season alone but she’s had plenty of help along the way.

Against the Eagles (33-4), it was Lucy Olsen’s shot to turn this one into another March victory. The 5-foot-9 guard who averaged 12.9 points scored nine in the first quarter. The Wildcats seemed poised to run away with this one, blocking FGCU’s first two shots, grabbing every rebound and loose ball raced to a 26-11 lead.

But a 3:28 scoreless drought trimmed Villanova’s halftime lead 39-33.

Here’s the thing, Siegrist wasn’t going to let Villanova lose on its home court and become the latest men’s or women’s tournament single-digit seed to suffer an upset. Ole Miss stunned top-seeded Stanford a night earlier to somewhat open up the women’s bracket.

With Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright watching from behind the team bench, the Wildcats showed again what makes them a dangerous matchup in March.

The nation’s leading scorer, Siegrist converted a three-point play and then picked the ball clean on a steal and layup that stretched Villanova’s lead to 46-33.

“She’s the best player,” Smesko said. “To game plan for her in one day is extraordinarily difficult.”

Each time FGCU tried to make a run, Siegrist and Olsen pushed back. Olsen buried a 3 late in the third for a 61-41 lead and the road to the Sweet 16 was completely clear. She finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

“I wouldn’t want to win it with anyone else,” Olsen said.


Florida Gulf Coast: Sha Carter led them with 11 points. The Eagles are looking for their first Sweet 16 in team history. They still have the record for overall wins in the tournament by a 12 seed with three.

“We were a little rattled,” Carter said.

Villanova: Dillon won her 400th career game and 71st at Villanova. She went 329-211 in 17 years at Drexel. The Wildcats won 24 of their final 26 home games. That helped them win 30 games, topping the 1981-82 team that went 29-4 and advanced to the AIAW Final Four.


The Wildcats are headed to Greenville, South Carolina for the Sweet 16.

Clouden scores 50 for Michigan State in double OT loss

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Nia Clouden scored 50 points in Michigan State’s 85-84 double-overtime loss to Florida Gulf Coast on Monday.

Clouden broke the women’s school record of 42 held by Tori Jankoska in 2017. She equaled the men’s mark set by Terry Furlow in 1976.

“To be in the same category as the great players who have gone on to great things is awesome and a great honor,” said Clouden, who was 17 for 28 from the field and made 15 of her 17 free throw attempts in the game.

The senior guard became the first Division I women’s basketball player to score 50 since Limar’i Thomas had 51 for Cincinnati in February. Clouden shattered her previous career best of 34.

The game was in the West Palm Beach Invitational.

She had 12 points in the first quarter and only 14 at the half. Clouden got going in the third period, scoring 10 points in the final four minutes as Michigan State led 52-51. She added 11 in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer with 1:49 left that tied the game at 66. She had a chance to give the Spartans the lead, but missed a jumper with 24 seconds left.

Clouden had seven points in the first OT and gave the Spartans a 75-73 lead with 22 seconds left. Kierstan Bell hit a 3-pointer to put Florida Gulf Coast on top and then a free throw sent the game to another overtime.

Clouden had all eight of the Spartans’ points in the second overtime. She had a chance to win it, but her jumper at the buzzer missed.

“It’s a huge accomplishment to me. I haven’t had that many points ever,” Clouden said. “It wouldn’t have happened without my teammates and coaches. Definitely they played a big part in it.”

Her 50 points equaled Naz Hillmon of Michigan for third all time in the Big Ten. It was also the 16th 50-point game since 2009-10 and first this season according to

Michigan State (7-5) will play again Tuesday against West Virginia.

Kierstan Bell ringing up big numbers at Florida Gulf Coast

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Kierstan Bell had never even heard of Florida Gulf Coast at this time last year. She was a freshman at Ohio State then, a few weeks away from announcing her plans to transfer.

Little did FGCU know it was about to hit the jackpot.

The 6-foot-1 Bell, a five-star recruit with WNBA potential, made the decision to play for the Eagles and both parties reaped immediate benefits. She’s rewriting the FGCU record book, the Eagles are undefeated with her in the lineup and once again seem like the mid-major that no Power Five school will want to see coming if they make next month’s NCAA Tournament.

Bell is averaging 25.2 points and 11.2 rebounds, joining Michigan’s Naz Hillmon as the only two players in Division I women’s basketball with those numbers. She is leading a team that is 19-2 overall, riding an 18-game winning streak and in command for the ASUN regular-season title.

“We thought within our system she would have a lot of freedom to do different things and show off her versatility, that she would really excel,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. “And I really thought she could become like a first round WNBA draft pick – although I admit she’s come along much faster than even I thought.”

Smesko has built a program that gets national attention each year, and with good reason. The Eagles’ worst record in the past dozen years – worst record – is 26-9. They’re leading all Division I women’s teams in 3-pointers made per game this season, without resorting to some gimmicky up-tempo style.

They have the nation’s third-longest winning streak overall and, by far, the nation’s longest road winning streak at 21 in a row. They’re just outside of making the AP Top 25 and are favored to make their seventh NCAA tournament in the last nine years that there has been one; they almost certainly would have gotten in last year if the tournament was played.

Bell did her homework and liked everything she saw.

“I just wanted to be a part of it,” Bell said. “Coach Smesko, he’s a great coach, been here for a long time, he knows what he’s talking about. So, I just wanted to have a connection with a great coach and have a connection off the court, too. That’s why we came.”

There was symmetry from the jump. When Bell entered the transfer portal, her family had already decided to move to the southwest Florida area, not far from FGCU’s campus. She found out Smesko was an Ohio native, like her. She was impressed by the program’s long run of overwhelming success.

The Eagles didn’t offer her a scholarship immediately – it took three meetings before both sides determined it was the right fit.

In April, she committed. The Eagles started this season 1-2 before the NCAA sent word in late November that Bell was eligible to play without sitting out a full season.

They’re 18-0 since.

“I just do what I do,” Bell said. “I just go out and play basketball, I’m not really a selfish player. I like getting my teammates better every day at practice. I like just getting them involved and being a team player.”

Bell is the first to say that she’s hardly doing this alone. FGCU lost 90% of its scoring from last season and has reloaded on the fly; its top three scorers this season – Bell, guard TK Morehouse (18.3 points per game) and Aaliyah Stanley (9.5 ppg) – all are transfer newcomers.

And even in a season where the Eagles are practicing less because of COVID-19 protocols and are in a very different routine, things are clicking.

“The team has jelled, in terms of just enjoying being around each other, and working together with so many new players and people in different roles,” Smesko said. “That usually takes quite a bit of time.”

FGCU has never had someone average 20 points for a full season; Bell is going to change that. She’s 155 points from the school’s single-season scoring record, which also looks in jeopardy with four regular season games left and then postseason matchups. She’s shooting 58% for the season, second-best in school history. Her 42-point game against Jacksonville this past Sunday was another school record.

The nation is noticing: Bell picked up national player-of-the-week honors after scoring 78 points in two games last weekend.

“Bell’s obviously a skilled and talented player,” Bellarmine coach Chancellor Dugan said earlier this season.

She was a three-time Ohio high school player of the year; the only other player in state history who can say that is LeBron James. Bell averaged 10.9 points last season at Ohio State, then decided to transfer for personal reasons.

So far, she and FGCU seem like a perfect match.

“I like where things are going,” Bell said.

Dungee, No. 14 Arkansas women turn back FGCU 86-80

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FORT MEYERS, Fla. — Chelsea Dungee scored 19 of her 25 points in the second half, 10 in the fourth quarter, and No. 14 Arkansas made four free throws in the final 11 seconds to pull out an 86-80 win over Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday at the Gulf Coast Showcase.

The Razorbacks (3-0) trailed most of the way before Dungee’s 3-pointer with 2:15 left them up for good at 77-74. Tishara Morehouse made a layup for the Eagles but Arkansas was 7 of 8 from the line in the final two minutes.

Morehouse, who poured in 35 points for the Eagles (1-2), made it 82-80 with 34 seconds left but Amber Ramirez and Marquesha Davis sealed it with free throws. It was the only two points of the game for Davis. Arkansas went 9 of 12 from the foul line in the fourth quarter and 26 of 34 for the game while FGCU was 5 of 10.

Makayla Daniels scored 15 points for the Razorbacks, Ramirez and Destiny Slocum added 12 apiece and Taylah Thomas had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

The Eagles, who lost 74-49 to No. 24 Missouri State a day earlier, had 11 3-pointers but went 0 for 5 in the fourth quarter. Aaliyah Stanley added 13 points.