Women’s basketball earns much-needed win over No. 2 CUSA team FIU

The Liberty women’s basketball team took on FIU for the second time this season Feb. 22, searching for revenge after losing by 11 points in the team’s initial meeting Jan. 18. Only allowing the Panthers to have the lead once at the beginning of the game, the Flames never took their foot off the gas to secure a resounding 71-56 win. 

“(I was) pleased with the entire effort throughout the entire game,” Lady Flames Head Coach Carey Green said. “It was a great win for us and the program.”

Only three minutes into the game, Green confidently went to his bench to help the team execute. It was an exceptional game by redshirt sophomore center Emily Howard, freshman forward Elisabeth Aegisdottir and freshman guards Ella Wigal and Claudia Acin. Howard played in the game for less than 10 minutes, but she had five rebounds and six points that helped put Liberty ahead. 

“(Our bench players) were critical to our success,” Green said. 

Photo by Thomas Carden | Emily Howard pulled down nine rebounds in nine minutes on the court

Junior guard Emma Hess and freshman guard Asia Boone were in foul trouble from the start. Yet that didn’t stop the Lady Flames from focusing on shutting down one of the conference’s primary defensive attacks in FIU. Acin stepped up, knocking down two 3-pointers that erupted the crowd early on in the contest. The energy in Liberty Arena was noticeable to the Flames on the court. 

“Shout-out to the Flames Nation fans,” redshirt junior center Bella Smuda said. “They’re great.”

Every shot that fell, the charges that were taken and the balls that were blocked sent the crowd roaring. The Flames currently remain 6-0, undefeated in their home gym. 

“It feels good playing at home,” junior point guard Jordan Hodges said. “This is our gym.” 

From the start, Hodges was a different person on the court. Hodges dropped the first basket of the game, setting the tone for the point guard to score 15 points, 11 rebounds and four assists for the team.

Early in the game, FIU guard Tanajah Hayes proved to be a strong defender and made Hodges work for her points. By the second quarter, Hodges was excelling in one-on-one coverage and continuously making it to the paint. 

“I try to read my defender as I go through the game,” Hodges said. “I take what she gives me and learn from it.”

Photo by Thomas Carden | Junior guard Jordan Hodges

Hodges set new career records for herself against FIU. She achieved her first college career double-double and set a record high in rebounds. Green and the Lady Flames were wildly impressed with their point guard. 

“That little guard had a double-double,” Green said. “She had an outstanding game.” 

Smuda is also making history for the Flames this season, becoming the 21st player in Lady Flames history to obtain 1,000 points during the Feb. 10 game at Louisiana Tech. This benchmark, however, is just a small part of what Smuda is hoping to accomplish this season. Her performance against FIU was critical in helping her group pick up a conference win as the CUSA tournament rapidly approaches. 

“We watched a lot of film from the first game,” Smuda said. “We adjusted based on that. The biggest focus was rebounding. We got outrebounded by 10 last game, and this game we outrebounded them by 17. That was the biggest difference in the game.” 

Photo by Thomas Carden | Freshman guard Asia Boone

Smuda competed against FIU stars Mya Kone and Courtney Prenger, who pull their weight for the Panthers, especially in rebounds. 

“They’re both great players and strong,” Smuda said.

This did not stop Smuda from scoring 10 points, having 14 rebounds and making three blocks. 

Hess faced foul trouble, accumulating three fouls before halftime. This did not affect her performance when she was on the court. Hess made a significant impact throughout the entire game by playing tough defense, scrimmaging for the ball and swooshing threes left and right. Hess ended the night with 17 points, making 3 out of 6 of her 3-point balls and 5 out of 12 field goals.

While the Flames beat the No. 2 team Thursday, they still have the No. 1 seed, Middle Tennessee, coming to town  March 6.

The Flames have four games left in the regular season, and three of the four are on the road. The Flames take on New Mexico State Feb. 29 in Las Cruces.   

Young is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion

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