Nov. 10, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. - Buoyed by the return of All-ACC forward Natasha Howard and a five-member senior class, the Florida State women's basketball team begins the 2012-13 season on Sunday at 2 p.m. when it welcomes Samford to the Donald L. Tucker Center.
The Bulldogs have been to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments and lost to the Seminoles, 76-46, in the first round of the 2011 "Big Dance" in Auburn, Ala. Samford (20-13 last season) returns two starters from last season's Southern Conference Tournament champions.
"Every game is so critical with 18 conference games now," Florida State head coach Sue Semrau said. "These nonconference games are even more vital. Samford is an NCAA Tournament team year-in and year-out. They do an exceptional job with the athletes they have. They're going to pose a test for us, and we're going to have to be ready."
Howard, a 6-3 junior forward from Toledo, Ohio, is always ready. She led the ACC with 12 double-doubles in 2011-12 and averaged a league-best 9.4 rpg in 16 conference-only games. Howard also averaged 12.2 ppg, 1.3 bpg and 1.5 spg en route to capturing ACC All-Defensive Team and All-ACC Third Team honors. She was a preseason All-ACC pick by both the coaches and the media in October and nabbed mention as one of 30 players on the preseason Wooden Award Watch List on Friday.
Despite the individual success of Howard, the Seminoles' streak of seven consecutive NCAA appearances was snapped last season, as FSU finished 14-17. Florida State was plagued by inconsistent point guard play for much of last season, but appears to have that remedied with the additions of junior college transfer Yashira "Cheetah" Delgado and senior Morgan Toles, who appeared in four games last season following a transfer from Auburn.
"We've been waiting on this season to start for awhile," Semrau said. "We have a sour taste in our mouth from last year. This team is ready to attack the season head on."
The Noles lose only one starter from last year's squad - All-ACC center Cierra Bravard, but return seniors Leonor Rodriguez, Alexa Deluzio and Chasity Clayton in addition to Howard. All four players started at least 26 games in 2011-12 and can play multiple positions giving Semrau one of the most versatile lineups of her 16-year tenure with the Garnet and Gold.
Rodriguez led the Seminoles in assists (2.7 apg) and three-point shooting (38 percent) a year ago, while Deluzio set a single-season FSU record for free throw shooting (84 percent) and missed just three foul shots during 16 conference games. She is one of the ACC's best pure shooters and averaged 13.2 ppg last season - fifth-best among returners in the league. Clayton contributed 8.9 ppg and 5.7 rpg, while senior Chelsea Davis tallied 9.2 ppg off the bench.
The Seminoles are a perfect 15-0 in season openers under Semrau and have won 18 straight season openers overall. Semrau is also 10-2 all-time against current Southern Conference squads.
Sunday's game will be broadcast live on 100.7 FM WFLA and at Seminoles.com.