TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the first two years of her college career, Chatrice White never had a reason to watch the NCAA tournament selection show.
It’s not that White hadn’t done her part. In two seasons at Illinois, she earned back-to-back All-Big Ten honors while emerging as one of the league’s top post players.
The only problem? The Illini went a combined 24-37 in those two years and didn’t play in any type of postseason, much less the NCAA tournament.
So when White transferred from Illinois after her sophomore season, she did so in hopes of finding a new school that made playing in the Big Dance a priority.
Come Monday, at around 6:30 p.m., White officially learned that she’d made the right choice. Seated in the front row at watch party for fans and staff at the Donald L. Tucker Center, White leaped from her chair when the words “Florida State” flashed on the screen.
The Seminoles, winners of 25 games, earned a No. 3 seed in the Stockton region. They’ll host the first two rounds in Tallahassee, starting with Friday’s first-round game against No. 14-seed Western Illinois.
“I wanted to go somewhere that I knew I had a good shot at going (to the NCAA tournament),” said White, a Nebraska native who has averaged 8.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game this season. “And I’m just so fortunate I picked Florida State.”
Consider it a small bit of March magic for a program that’s otherwise used to hearing its name called on Selection Monday.
This year will mark FSU’s fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance and 12th in the last 13 years. White is the only player on the Seminoles’ roster who knows how it feels to miss the tournament.
Now, she knows how it feels to make it.
“I said, ‘What was it like?’ coach Sue Semrau said. “And she said, ‘To see our name up there, that was just amazing.’ And her parents will fly down from Nebraska and be a part of this NCAA tournament.
“It’s the Big Dance. It’s what it’s all about.”
Even better, after a one-year hiatus, the Seminoles will don their dancing shoes on their home floor.
After hosting the first and second rounds in 2015 – and eventually advancing to the Elite Eight – the Seminoles were forced to hit the road last year, where they emerged from the College Station, Texas, region but later fell to Baylor in the Sweet 16.
Having done both, the Seminoles can easily say that, when it comes to tournament play, there’s no place like home.
“It’s comfortable. We play here all the time,” senior forward Ivey Slaughter said.
“Just the rhythm,” Semrau said. “A lot of things about being at home – the comfortability that you feel, not having to travel.”
Of course, the biggest advantage to playing in Tallahassee is the crowd.
Florida State averaged more than 5,000 fans during its two NCAA tournament home games in 2015. Meanwhile, the Seminoles’ first opponent, Western Illinois, played in front of an average of 881 fans per game this season.
The winner of that game will face Missouri or South Florida on Sunday.
“To have a home crowd, it really does help your team,” senior guard Brittany Brown said. “Especially because basketball is a game of runs. When that adversity hits, you need something to give you energy. And our fans do a great job of giving it to us.”
Added junior forward Shakayla Thomas, “Knowing that we have the ‘sixth man,’ basically, is a great feeling for us.
“They give us momentum and confidence.”
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