March 14, 2015

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) Regardless of the outcome, there are two certainties going into Sunday's Atlantic Sun Conference championship game.

- Florida Gulf Coast is going to the NCAA Tournament.

- Northern Kentucky is not.

The 20th-ranked Eagles have clinched the league's automatic NCAA berth, a bit of a moot point since they would have been an at-large selection anyway, because the Norse are still in their reclassifying stage from Division II to Division I and not yet eligible to be one of the 64 women's teams headed to the big dance.

But Sunday's game still has intrigue.

First, there's a conference championship at stake. Second, Florida Gulf Coast (29-2) has won 24 straight games and knows a loss could badly hurt its seeding on the bracket that will be unveiled Monday night. And third, Northern Kentucky (19-12) still has hopes of getting invited to a postseason tournament.

''It's definitely unusual to play in a conference tournament championship game and have it not be for the automatic bid,'' FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. ''But it doesn't change a lot for us. From the very beginning we were playing with the goal of winning the tournament, not just the automatic qualifier part of it. I think our team will be sufficiently motivated.''

That might be an understatement.

The Eagles have won 28 straight games against A-Sun opponents, with their last loss being a 63-43 defeat at Northern Kentucky last season.

FGCU is 41-3 overall since, the losses coming by one point to Oklahoma State in last season's NCAA Tournament, by three points at Auburn in November and a seven-point, double-overtime loss to Ohio State in the U.S. Virgin Islands over Thanksgiving weekend.

''I think the pressure's off of both teams, in all reality,'' Northern Kentucky coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. ''We're battling to play in the postseason, if we're able to get selected into the WNIT or the WBI. For Florida Gulf Coast's sake, they're in the NCAA Tournament. ... It'll be an interesting game. But we're going in and looking to be in a competitive setting with them.''

That'll be easier said than done. FGCU has won 67 consecutive home games against conference opponents.

''We're trying to continue to tweak and develop and get better,'' Plitzuweit said. ''We're going to have to perform and be good defensively to have a chance.''

A win for FGCU would be their 30th of the season. Only three teams entered the NCAA Tournament with 30 wins a year ago.

''We are very much looking forward to this,'' Smesko said.

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