Women's Hoops Races Past Leathernecks
By Seminoles.com contributor Ariya Massoudi
At this point in the season, the Seminoles are who they are.
No. 3 seed Florida State used a tenacious defensive effort on Friday night defeating Western Illinois 87-66 in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Led by Shakayla Thomas’ double-double (23 points and 14 rebounds), FSU mounted a few big runs to upend the upset-minded Leathernecks.
“We knew they were a great three-point shooting team and it would be hard to guard their (ball) actions,” FSU coach Sue Semrau said following the game. “I was very proud of the way we adjusted in the second half and the way we rebounded the ball.”
The No. 14 seed Leathernecks came into the contest as one the nation’s leaders in three-pointers made and in the first quarter it seemed as if their unique style of play would give the Noles problems.
Using all five players away from the basket, without a traditional post player, allowed WIU to routinely setup long distance attempts, of which they were connecting. Coupled with a high-pace tempo, the Leathernecks connected on three outside shots in the first quarter and had the hosts on their heels, leading 19-12.
“We fought really hard and got off to a hot start,” WIU coach JD Gravino said. “They believed in themselves and I think the emotion (of wanting an upset) took us through that first quarter.”
In the second quarter, the Noles began to protect the ball better and attack the glass. Trailing 22-14 early in the period, FSU ignited on a 12-2 run, taking a 26-24 lead and never looking back. Getting hands in the passing lanes and breaking into transition guided the Noles to a 36-34 lead at halftime.
“One of things we talked (about) in the huddle was just do what we do best and that’s defense,” said redshirt junior Imani Wright, who scored 14 points in the win. “Making the adjustments we needed to make and then not being timid on offense or defense and attacking.”
The Noles extended the lead to double-digits in the third quarter, coming out of the locker room with a quick 9-2 run. Senior guard Leticia Romero scored the first seven points of the period for FSU, who turned the intensity level up a few notches.
Shakayla Thomas scored 14 of her 23 points in the second half, looking seemingly un-guardable at times. The junior out of Sylacauga, Ala., routinely attacked the offensive glass for put back lay-ins.
“I come out in the second half of games and I guess I get energy from my teammates,” Thomas said. “They’re always in my ear like ‘play your game, this is what you do on a daily basis.’ I think it just drove me to do what I do best, and that’s help (the team win).”
The Noles put the foot on the gas pedal in the fourth quarter, eventually wearing out the Leathernecks, who couldn’t hit a three-point shot in the period after making 11 through the previous three.
Chatrice White was dominant in the win for the Seminoles, notching career-highs for points (19) and rebounds (14) in an FSU uniform. The junior transfer from Illinois finished the game 8 of 10 from the floor with nine offensive rebounds.
“The way she had blended (with the team) is phenomenal,” Semrau said. “She’s waited her turn and comes out in her first NCAA Tournament and does this. She only missed two shots, she was a beast.”
On the evening, the Noles won the rebound battle 54-23 against the smaller Leathernecks and notched 50 points in the paint. The win gave Florida State its 14th straight victory in NCAA Tournament first round games and moves the Noles to 26-6 this season.
“The combination of the size and athleticism was a little bit of a helpless feeling (for us),” Gravina said on FSU.
FSU will next host No. 6 seed Missouri on Sunday in the second round. Earlier in the day, the Tigers mounted a furious second half rally and defeated No. 11 seed South Florida 66-64 on a buzzer-beating layup. For the Seminoles, they’ll rely on their strengths as a team to aid them in a quick turnaround and unfamiliar foe.
“My mantra as head coach is to really focus on this one game,” Semrau said. “Now, my staff has looked ahead and we’ll be prepared and work together to implement a game plan.”