Ruben Palacios/ Staff Writer
Put away your spring football gear because basketball season at FIU is not over yet.
The women’s basketball team, after waiting anxiously for over a week, finally received an at-large bid to participate in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
FIU will host the University of Florida within the friendly confines of the U.S. Century Bank Arena on tonight at 7 p.m.
The Panthers finished the year with a 19-12 (12-8 SBC) record but lost in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament to eventual champions Middle Tennessee State University.
“We’re really excited to be able to play another game,” Junior Jerica Coley said. “And hopefully we’ll get to play a few more games.”
The Gators, out of the Southeastern Conference, finished their year with an 18-14 record while finishing ninth out 15 teams in their league. The Gators were the victims of a conference that was simply stacked with talent. The top five teams in the SEC all finished ranked within the top 17 teams in the country. Overall, seven SEC teams reached the NCAA tournament.
The Gators average 70 points per contest while only allowing their opponents 64 points per game. The Panthers on the other hand, average 61 points per game and allow their opponents to 58 points per game.
Leading the way for the Gators will be Jaterra Bonds, who enters the contest averaging team-high 12.7 points per game. Bonds also leads the squad in minutes played and is second on the team in assists. Another Gator to watch out for is Jennifer George. George is second on the team in scoring at a rate of 11.5 points per game; she is also the enforcer in the post for the Gators as she averages a team-high eight rebounds per game.
The Panthers will be led by their All-American and reigning two-time SBC Conference Player of the Year in Coley. Coley has led the nation in scoring since Jan. 25, and continues to do so with an average of 25.9 points per game. Alongside Coley will be junior Marita Davydova who was second on the team in scoring at 10 points per game. Davydova led the Panthers in rebounding at a clip of 8.7 boards per game.
After facing 18 consecutive conference opponents, the Panthers will be facing their first non-conference foe since Jan. 2. In nine non-conference matchups this year the Panthers were 6-3 record in such contests. The impressive non-conference record included a win over Iowa, who qualified for the NCAA tournament as a No.9 seed.
The Panthers and Gators played three of the same opponents this year, those teams being: University of North Florida, Troy and LSU. The Panthers went 2-1 against the three, while UF posted a perfect 3-0 record.
“It’s cool to be playing a team that isn’t in the Sun Belt for the first time in a while, but it doesn’t really matter who the opponent is; we still have to take care of business if we want to keep playing,” Coley said. “Florida is a great team. They play in a competitive conference and it will be a tough fight, but we are ready.
FIU has a 5-7 all-time in the WNIT and 2-4 all time against Florida.
If the Panthers get by UF, they will advance to play the winner of Florida Gulf Coast University and Winthrop University sometime between March 23-25.