Florida State and South Carolina know each other well.
They’ve scrimmaged in the off-season each of the past two years and met on this very stage back in 2015 in Greensboro, N.C.
On Monday, another showdown will present itself for these familiar foes, an opportunity at making the NCAA Women’s Final Four.
“There was a lot of growth in those young ladies and in our program as a result (of that game two years ago),” FSU coach Sue Semrau said. “I think it’s two really good programs, two elite programs, that get a chance to match up here tomorrow night.”
In 2015, South Carolina defeated FSU 80-74 in the Elite Eight. The Seminoles were in the lead for a majority of that contest in an entertaining game before the Gamecocks made the crucial plays down the stretch to reach the Final Four.
While the players remember that physical battle, this edition will take on a life of its own.
“I wouldn’t say it’s an advantage because they are definitely a different team than they were two years ago,” said South Carolina guard Allisha Gray, who played against FSU while at UNC prior to transferring.
“I just have to come in and prepare for them like I haven’t met them before and like they are a brand-new team.”
FSU star Shakayla Thomas however, has been looking forward to the new opportunity.
“It was a great match-up. I remember them coming out and it was a great game,” Thomas said of the 2015 contest. “This matchup, to me, it’s going to help us redeem ourselves, like this is what I’ve personally been looking forward to for the longest, so I’m excited.”
The Gamecocks breezed to the Regional Final, defeating No. 12 seed Quinnipiac 100-58 in the Sweet 16 on Saturday. As the No. 1 seed in this regional, they come in as one of the nation’s best defensive teams and have managed to play well without star center, Alaina Coates.
“They’re really good defensively, they’re very big,” Ivey Slaughter said. “They’re bigger than us at every position, so we need to take the same mindset we had against Oregon State. Our mental toughness and intensity from the jump will need to be the difference.”
The physical matchup presents another opportunity for Slaughter to play her preferred style of basketball. The senior was brilliant against Oregon State with 11 points, eight rebounds and nine steals in the win.
“It keeps me upbeat and keeps my energy high,” she said about physical games. “That type of game is really good for me.”
South Carolina is led by A’ja Wilson, who scores 17.9 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per contest. A pair of ACC transfers in Kaela Davis (Georgia Tech) and Allisha Gray (UNC) have bolstered Dawn Staley’s roster. Both players are averaging over 12 points per game for the Gamecocks.
The Seminoles know that in order to win, defense and rebounding will be critical. The Noles have done an excellent job in the NCAA Tournament, holding teams to just 58 points per game.
“It’s a big factor, but that’s what we do,” Brittany Brown said. “That’s been our bread and butter all year, our biggest difference-maker and why we’re here today is because of our defending and rebounding ability.”
FSU’s athleticism and toughness against Oregon State fueled the largest comeback in program history and was appreciated by the South Carolina team. The Gamecocks are expecting a competitive game against the Noles
“They really turned the defense up, their whole energy,” Davis said of FSU’s win over Oregon State. “I think they had a completely different energy, a completely different focus in the second half.”
The Seminoles will look to avoid a slow start on Monday as they had against the Beavers. The team feels it’s prepared to mentally engage quicker into the game and impose their will on the Gamecocks from the start.
“What Coach (Semrau) was telling us was to come grab the game,” Leticia Romero said. “Just attack them, be aggressive and not wait or hold back or wait for them to make mistakes. That’s going to be our biggest focus, too, starting the game well against these teams.”
For Florida State, the new stage is less about the Gamecocks and more about themselves. A first ever trip to the Final Four is on the minds of the Noles, propelling the program forward the reward.
“It would be incredible, this program has never been to a Final Four before,” Slaughter said.
“This group of girls and coaches deserve it and I can’t wait for the chance to make it happen.”