STOCKTON, Calif. (Seminoles.com)– This time was going to be different. That was what the Seminoles were thinking right up to the last minute of Monday night’s 71-64 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight loss to South Carolina. The last time Florida State was so close to its first Final Four appearance in program history was two years ago, also against the Gamecocks. The Seminoles had led for 37 minutes, only to be snakebit in a 80-74 loss in the Greensboro, N.C. regional final.
On Monday night at the Stockton Arena, South Carolina led for 37 minutes, but Florida State had pulled within three points, 65-62, with 3:23 to play. During a timeout with 1:04 to play and trailing by five points, coach Sue Semrau said the Seminoles felt like they could turn the tables.
“Yeah, one thing goes your way …” Semrau said. “At that point, it was a five-point game and we missed shots and really we had held them for a long time without scoring.”
Poor shooting plagued the ’Noles all night. They had runs of 6-0 three times and were able to keep South Carolina from scoring for two to three minutes as a time. Junior centerChatrice White scored Florida State’s final points of the season on a layup with 12 seconds to play. She finished the game with 15 points, second-most on the team.
Florida State made 36.6 percent of its shots, putting the ball up 71 times and making 26. It was the team’s lowest shooting percentage since a 92-88 double overtime loss to then-No. 8 Texas on Feb. 13 when it made 33.7 percent of its shots.
“I think the whole game, we got all the looks we wanted to,” White said. “The shots just weren’t falling. It was frustrating on the court, but we tried our best not to let one mistake lead to the next and just continued to fight. But you know, we wanted it to go in the basket and didn’t tonight.”
Team scoring leader Leticia Romero said she would probably watch the game when the players went back to their hotel and “hate” herself all over again. Romero, who won Olympic silver with the Spanish national team in 2016, made 6 of 23 shots to finish with 16 points.
“Today I thought I was confident, I was shooting it. I thought they were great looks,” Romero said. “They just didn’t fall. I had a mental battle with myself during the game. ‘Should I keep shooting it? Should I not?’ But at that moment I felt, you know, I just had to try and that was my way to help the team. I feel really guilty for not being able to help like I should. I really tried.”
Semrau said she was proud of Romero for continuing to shoot. Romero scored seven points in the fourth quarter as the Seminoles made a furious run. Florida State made 8 of 22 shots in the final 10 minutes.
“I thought we rushed,” Semrau said. “I thought they played some good defense, but I thought that we felt the pressure of them scoring, and rather than being more deliberate and getting the looks that we wanted, I thought we took the first open look. And it hasn’t been – that’s not what we’ve been throughout the season, so credit South Carolina for that.”
Florida State led in nearly every category, including rebounds (36-31), assists (12-8) and steals (10-7). Senior point guard Brittany Brown finished with three steals, four assists and eight points. Romero pressed her right hand into her head as Semrau reviewed the box score.
“Obviously we’re disappointed,” Semrau said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well. They shot the ball great. In every other category, we win. But unfortunately you have to put the ball in the basket, and 71 shots to 45 shots; 18 offensive rebounds to two; 12 assists, 11 turnovers to their eight assists, 18 turnovers. You look at that – we beat them in points in the paint, points off turnovers, second-chance points, fast-break points, bench points, and it goes on and on, and that’s just this game.
“It’s tough. I wouldn’t trade our scorers for anybody. I thought they made a valiant effort, and gave ourselves some chances.”
One glaring statistic in the Gamecocks’ favor was 39 defensive rebounds. South Carolina had just two offensive rebounds, but the second one was critical.
With two minutes left, South Carolina’s Allisha Gray missed a 3-pointer. The ball was rebounded by teammate Tyasha Harris, and 18 seconds later, Kaela Davis scored to give South Carolina a 67-62 lead. The Seminoles went from hopeful to desperate, making 1 of 5 shots after falling behind by five points.
“That was huge,” Semrau said. “Rebounding is critical, and that rebound that gave them that extra possession was really big.”
Davis was named the Stockton Regional’s Most Outstanding Player. She led all scorers Monday with 23 points. South Carolina (31-4) advances to the Final Four for the second time in program history, joining Stanford, Mississippi State and four-time defending champion Connecticut in Dallas on Saturday.
Florida State finished with an overall record of 28-7. The Seminoles’ Ivey Slaughter was the game’s leading rebounder with 10, adding six points to her line. She and Romero were named to the all-tournament team. It was Florida State’s first loss since the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament on March 3, a narrow 56-54 loss to Miami.
While her teammates were understandably inconsolable – Brown hustled through the handshake line fighting back tears with the bottom of her jersey pulled into her mouth – Romero talked about how proud she was of what the team had accomplished this season.
“I think we need a little bit of time, especially for the seniors,” Romero said. “We really wanted it this year. We talked about it. We lost two years ago by six. We lot to South Carolina again. It hurts. It really hurts to see that you had it twice. After a couple days we’ll realize how proud we have to be of how the team worked.”