TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – If Saturday’s high-scoring, first-round NCAA Women’s Tournament victories by third-seeded Florida State and 11th-seeded Buffalo were the appetizer, then Monday night’s second-round clash with a Sweet 16 berth on the line should make for one tasty entrée.
The Seminoles advanced to Monday’s 6:30 p.m. second-round game with a 91-49 win over Little Rock, while the Bulls ousted sixth-seeded USF, 102-79.
Those offensive outbursts are not anomalies for either squad. Coach Sue Semrau’s 11th-ranked Seminoles (26-6) are averaging 81.5 points per game, but an even more impressive 87.6 points over 15 games at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Buffalo (28-5), which eclipsed 100 points for the first time in 23 seasons against USF, averages 78.3 and has scored 203 points over its last two games.
For those who appreciate metrics, FSU’s 1.094 points per possession ranks 10th nationally, while Buffalo’s 2,612 possessions this season rank sixth in Division I.
In short, the Noles and Bulls like to go up and down the floor at both a frenetic and efficient pace.
“We’ve been in a track meet before,” Semrau said. “We like to run. I think it’s going to come down to both teams doing what we do. It’s not like you can really have a lot of strategy with that one-day prep, so we looked at what we needed to and we’ll do what we do.”
Bulls’ coach Felisha Legette-Jack offered a similar take.
“We are focusing on who we are and what we do and how we do it,” Legette-Jack said during Sunday’s press conference “I think that is the best thing to do with such a short window [of preparation]…
“We are going to push it with poise. We are going to set up and get back. We are pretty disciplined and mature enough in a half-court setting if they slow us down. We are going to lock in to who we are and figure [out] Florida State in the next 12 hours.”
Suffice to say, the team which runs with the greatest efficiency will be racing ahead to Albany, N.Y. for Saturday’s Sweet 16 round. The Noles are vying for their fourth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance and sixth in program history, all under Semrau.
Buffalo is already in rarified air, having collected the programs’ first NCAA win against USF.
Florida State has a decided advantage in postseason experience, with four seniors among its top five scorers, led by Shakayla Thomas (17.5 ppg) and Imani Wright (16.7). Thomas and Ama Degbeon will play in their fourth consecutive second-round NCAA games as Noles, and third on their home floor.
Still, Buffalo is a veteran team which plays with a passion and energy that is unmistakable, from the shimmy-shakes of junior guard Cierra Dillard to the excitable floor leadership of Aussie point guard Stephanie Reid.
“That definitely has been us all season,” said Dillard, who celebrated often throughout her career-high 36-point performance on Saturday. “Coach talks about ‘focused fun’ and when we are focused and when we have stops, are getting out in transition and our offense is flowing, we have a little bit of fun knocking down shots and feeding off the energy we give to each other.
“When you have a coach like Coach Jack, it comes out naturally.”
Legette-Jack encourages her teams’ spontaneity on the floor.
“We are going to be focused and create energy; energy to create that synergy,” she said. “If we make shots, it’s a celebration. If we miss shots, we are going to get back and play defense…There are some personalities on this team. You try and put personality in a bottle, eventually it’s going to combust. So I say, there is no lid; the bottle is open. Just go do you.”
That was not lost on Semrau or her players, who took in some or all of Buffalo’s historic win.
“It’s exciting to sit there and watch their excitement on the court and how hard they go and the little scrappy plays they make,” FSU senior forward Chatrice White said of the Bulls. “It’s exciting and I know that as a team, we have to match that intensity and excitement tomorrow and we definitely are more than capable to do that.”
Wright, who along with Thomas are the most animated Noles, is looking forward to playing in that kind of environment with so much on the line.
“it’s going to be extremely fun,” Wright said. “I’m looking forward to it, especially some of the match-ups are going to be fun as a competitor. When you’re in the flow of the game and in your rhythm, just being able to play at a high level and performing at a high level is what makes it the most fun.”
After watching the Bulls from courtside, Semrau appreciated Buffalo’s show of emotion.
“I love it,” Semrau said. “Joy is what basketball is all about.”
Of course Semrau and the Noles will be most joyous if they are victorious Monday night; no small task, even for a program which is 3-0 in NCAA second-round games on their home floor.
“I’ve watched a lot of Buffalo since that [USF game] and they are a really solid basketball team,” she said. “They are fearless. They fight. We’re going to have to match their intensity.”