Florida Gulf Coast Stanford Basketball

Florida Gulf Coast guards Sophia Stiles (2) and Emma List (32) double team Stanford forward Kiki Iriafen during a game earlier this season in Honolulu. Stiles and the Eagles will play in the NCAA tournament on Saturday against Washington State in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

MISSOULA — Sophia Stiles' college basketball career has been fruitful and fraught with danger.

There were the knee and shoulder surgeries in her five years on the Montana Lady Griz team. Then just last week she fractured her cheekbone playing guard for Florida Gulf Coast in an Atlantic Sun Conference tournament semifinal against Austin Peay.

That injury prevented her from playing in the ASUN tourney final Saturday against Liberty in Fort Myers, Florida. Her teammates picked up the slack in an 84-60 win, helping Stiles realize a goal she's been chasing since her first days as a Lady Griz in the summer of 2017.

"Playing in the NCAA tourney is what every college basketball player dreams of," Stiles told 406mtsports.com earlier this week. "I feel very grateful to be able to live out a dream and be a part of this team.

"The coaching staff talked to me about playing in the (NCAA) tournament in my recruiting visit. They truly expect to be playing in it every March, which is really special."

Stiles and the unranked Eagles (32-3) will face 23rd-ranked Washington State (23-10) Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Mountain in Villanova, Pennsylvania (TV: ESPNU). Florida Gulf Coast drew a No. 12 seed and Washington State, champion of the Pac-12 tournament for the first time in program history, is a No. 5 seed.

"I do love this team," FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. "They have been a joy to coach all year. They work really hard and get along and they're just great people. They have made this year really something special for me."

Stiles, a graduate guard who played her high school ball at Malta, was MVP of the Lady Griz in 2021-22 but left last spring to give Florida Gulf Coast a try. She had started every game this season up until Saturday, averaging 7.4 points, 4.2 boards and 1.8 assists per contest. She has hit 98 of 194 shots from the floor, including 29 of 92 from 3-point range.

"Of course all glory to God," said Stiles, who is questionable for Saturday's game and may have to wear a mask. "He guided my steps here to FGCU and has gifted me with skills and abilities. I feel very blessed to have this opportunity." 

The Eagles have won 14 straight games. They're 33-2 in ASUN tournament play — with six straight ASUN Tournament titles — and 47-16 all-time in Division I postseason play.

FGCU and Connecticut are the only active programs in the nation to win at least 25 games in 13 straight seasons. The Green & Blue, who were ranked No. 22 two weeks ago, join South Carolina as the only two Division I programs to win 30 or more games in six of the last nine seasons.

The Eagles lead the nation in 3-pointers, having made 413 for an 11.8 per-game average. FGCU has also tripled opponents' treys total, allowing only 132. The Eagles have led the nation in made 3s per game in each of the past three years and in four of the last five seasons.

Lady Griz fans may remember their team giving Washington State a run for its money back on Dec. 2 in Pullman, Washington. The Cougars' 20-point margin of victory was not indicative of the competitive nature of the contest, with Montana locked in a tie with the Cougs midway through the third period.

The FGCU-Washington State winner gets the winner of No. 4 seed Villanova vs. No. 13 seed Cleveland State in Monday's second round.

Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 16 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.