TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It took third-seeded Florida State a little more than four minutes to shake off the rust following a 14-day layoff between the ACC Tournament and Saturday’s NCAA Women’s Tournament opening-round game against Little Rock.
Responding to an early 8-4 deficit, the 11th-ranked Seminoles reeled off 11 unanswered points. The first of two decisive runs on the day included six points off three Trojan turnovers and scoring contributions from five different players.
Riding that rust-buster formula to the finish, Florida State polished off 14th seed Little Rock 91-49, extending its streak of consecutive NCAA first-round victories to 15, dating back to 1991.
The Noles (26-6) will meet 11th-seeded Buffalo, which shocked sixth-seeded USF 102-79, Monday (6:30 p.m.) at the Donald L. Tucker Center in pursuit of their fourth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.
Senior Shakayla Thomas led four double-figure scorers with a postseason career-best 26 points as the reinvigorated Noles dominated the Trojans (23-10) in every facet.
“Having that little break was really good for us,” said FSU senior forward Chatrice White, who scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. “We came back [to practice] on Tuesday and were really ready. It was a lot of fun. It was honestly really good for us, having that break. It gave us a chance to focus on who we have coming up and just get the scouting report down.”
The Noles executed on both ends of the floor from their 11-0 run to the finish, out-rebounding the Trojan 42-20 and forcing 16 turnovers. FSU outscored the Trojan 50-12 in the paint, 15-4 on fast-break points and 22-9 off turnovers.
It all added up to the third 90-plus point performance in FSU’s NCAA postseason history and a record-matching 42-point margin of victory.
“I watched a lot of tape on Florida State,” Little Rock coach Joe Foley said. “I thought they were very impressive on tape. I thought they were very good. I’m even more impressed with how they drove it on us and to it to the hole. It got us in foul trouble and got them to the free throw line.”
FSU led 22-15 after the first quarter but effectively put the game away with a 10-0 run to close the half with a 53-30 lead.
Little Rock came into the game with the nation’s sixth-best scoring defense, yielding just 52.6 points a game.
The Seminoles opened the third quarter with 13 unanswered points, extending the Trojans’ scoreless streak of more than eight minutes.
“I was getting a little confused,” FSU coach Sue Semrau said, tongue-in-cheek. “I could not believe our defense held somebody that long…They really stepped up. Our kids did a good job of scoring off turnovers and we did a great job in the first half of scoring in the paint. And then 22-9 on points off turnovers; that’s a big deal and that’s where you can go on runs.”
FSU shot an all-time postseason-best 58.3 percent from the floor, with scoring contributions coming from all nine players. Nicki Ekhomu (13 points) and AJ Alix (12 points) rounded out the double-figure scorers, while Imani Wright and Nausia Woolfolk combined for 17.
Little Rock, which saw its eight-game winning streak come to an end, was led by Tori Lasker’s 13 points. Keanna Keys added 11 and Ronjanae DeGray finished with 10.
“I felt like we really set the tone in the first half was with the way we went to the offensive glass,” Semrau said. “We got second shots and that was important for us, knowing we had the freedom to shoot.
“I think the unsung hero of this game was Nausia Woolfolk. I mean how many offensive rebounds did she have off of free throws alone? I just want to point those things out because it’s not all about the scoring. It’s not all about the little things offensively. It’s about what we do and the grit we have.”
Five of Woolfolk’s eight rebounds came on the offensive end of the floor, emblematic of the energy the Noles demonstrated throughout, but especially on the defense.
“Today our [zone] was perfect against them and we executed and turned it into offense,” White said. “Using that defensive energy and effort is what drives us.”
BUFFALO 102, USF 79
Consecutive 3-pointers by Buffalo’s Katherine Ups and Cierra Dillard to close the second quarter completed the 11th-seeded Bulls’ rally from 11 points down for a 43-38 lead that sixth-seeded USF could never overcome.
Dillard finished with a game-high 36 points, Courtney Wilkins added 23 and Stephanie Reid chipped in 19 as the MAC runner-ups improved to 28-5 and earned a date with third-seeded Florida State, Monday at 6:30 p.m.
Kitija Laksa led USF (26-8) with 28 points and Maria Jespersen added 23, but were no match for Buffalo’s barrage of 14 3-pointers and 25-9 scoring bulge off turnovers.
Dillard was 7-of-13 from beyond the arc – Buffalo was 14-of-27 – and the lower-seeded Bulls also had a whopping 18-8 advantage on second-chance points.