- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
The FGCU women's basketball team is 1-0 without Kierstan Bell.
How long can the nationally ranked Eagles keep it up without their star for the foreseeable future, perhaps the rest of the season?
Head coach Karl Smesko and his players think they can do just fine.
"We're going to need other people to help with the scoring, but as long as they share the ball and work together, we've got a lot of good players and we're still going to be hard to guard," Smesko said.
They won't be as explosive without Bell. The nation's No. 5 scorer (23.4 points per game) has a partially torn meniscus and is scheduled for surgery Wednesday, just a week after the junior posted on Facebook she was declaring for the WNBA draft.
"Without her, you're not going to replace her production with anybody," Smesko said. "You're going to have to redistribute her production throughout the team. Everybody's going to get a few more shots. They're going to have make sure we shoot a good percentage, take care of the ball, and then at the same time really be committed to guarding on the defensive end.
"We have a lot of good players. I think we still have a really good team and looking forward to the challenge ahead."
In case you missed it: FGCU's Kierstan Bell says she's entering WNBA Draft in Facebook post
According to her post, depending on the findings of the surgery, she could miss 4 to 6 weeks, or four months.
The former scenario would put her out until at least Feb. 26, the day of the last regular-season game. Six weeks would put her out until March 12, the day before the ASUN Tournament championship game.
But getting back into game condition would take additional time.
"It's going to be hard, but they know I'm still here to support," said Bell, who was at Tuesday's practice. "They just want me to take care of my body and recover. That's the only thing I'm focused on right now is just going to get my surgery (Wednesday) and just taking it step by step."
So the Eagles are preparing like they will have to next season anyway — without the likely first-round pick (unless Bell ends up withdrawing from the draft).
Last Saturday was the first time they played without Bell since the Ohio State transfer became eligible in the fourth game of the 2020-21 season against Davidson. She had 24 points and 20 rebounds in her debut, and the Eagles won 25 of their 26 games with her. They are 17-1 overall this season, 16-1 with Bell, so a total of 41-2 with her.
Understandably, that could create some skepticism on how good the Eagles can be.
"I think our players have a lot of confidence in each other," Smesko said. "They know that we have a lot of good players. You never want to lose an outstanding player, but at the same time I think our players so far in the one game that Kierstan could only play a few minutes and this last time where she didn't get to play at all, I thought our players responded really well, and worked well together and understand that together they're still capable of accomplishing great things."
As Smesko alluded to, Saturday's 22-point pasting on the road of a 14-3 Jacksonville State team says otherwise.
"I thought we played an excellent first half," Smesko said. "We really played together. We helped one another, especially defensively. We have a lot of good players on this team. I thought we played really well, especially in the first half."
Even with Bell in the lineup, Kerstie Phills has picked up her game offensively recently. Phills was slated to be the top returning player for the 2020-21 team, but decided not to play due to COVID-19 concerns and focus on her pursuing her master's in health administration.
Phills was named the ASUN Player of the Week on Monday after shooting 68.2% from the floor, 50% from 3-point range, and 71.4% from the free-throw line. She had a season-high 23 points in a 78-41 win at Stetson, and 17 at Jacksonville State when she added nine rebounds.
In the last five games, she's averaging 14.2 points and 5.6 rebounds.
"Phills has been excellent," Smesko said. "She's had a really good season, but as of late she's really taken it to another level. She can shoot the 3. She can attack the rim. She's a good cutter. She's starting to see all of her opportunities to create scoring chances and she's made the most of it."
"My mindset was completely different," Phills said of returning. "Taking a year off is a long time. It's something I wanted to do (return). I wanted to finish off strong. Not everybody gets this opportunity so I'm truly enjoying every moment that I have and not taking it for granted."
At Jacksonville State, point guard T.K. Morehouse led the way with 20 points. The last time they played without Bell, against nationally-ranked Arkansas in the third game of last season, Morehouse had 35, so she's capable of scoring much more than her current 13.1 average.
"I thought TK had one of her best games of the season," Smesko said. "She saw her space and attacked it, and was able to really have a good game."
Also against Jacksonville State, Emma List added a season-high 14 points and six rebounds.
"I think Emma List really showed she can score, and she's more than just distributing the ball to open people," Smesko said.
"It's just the fact that working together as a group and as a unit and knowing that we can trust other players to get the job done," List said.
Tyra Cox, the team's top defender, has struggled with her shooting this season (31.6% overall, 22.6% from 3-point range), but averaged 9.3 points per game last season.
Then there are two graduate transfers who have never played without Bell.
Clemson transfer Kendall Spray is among the leaders in 3-point shooting at 44.7% and is averaging 10.4 points per game. LSU transfer Karli Seay is averaging 6.7 points per game, fifth on the team.
"We had a lot of people show some things that they're capable of doing," Smesko said.
"As a team we just continue to do what works best, playing FGCU basketball," Phills said. "Coach Smesko is a very smart coach and so when we follow his game plan and play together as a team, it shows off."
Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at email@example.com. Support local journalism with this special subscription offer at https://cm.naplesnews.com/specialoffer/
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Kierstan Bell: How will FGCU women's basketball team look without star?