Dec. 20, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's the nature of the collegiate game. There's a small window in a student-athlete's career -- only four or five years of eligibility -- and at some point, the uniform gets taken off for the last time.
Cierra Bravard knows her clock is ticking. Her time in a Florida State women's basketball uniform comes closer and closer to its end each time the Seminoles tip off.
Eleven games, 192 points, 86 rebounds and 12 blocks into Bravard's final season in Tallahassee, FSU's opponents have understood that fleeting time all too well; the Seminoles' star in the paint is playing with a purpose.
That purpose? To finish strong.
"I'm playing like it's my last year and I think that's kind of what is driving me," Bravard said. "You don't really know what it's like to be in this situation. This is my last year. I don't want to go out thinking I could have done more or I held back a little bit because I was too scared. I think I am just kind of trying to give it my all and go out knowing that I did everything I could."
After starting 15 games as a true freshman, Bravard has seen her numbers and importance to the program increase each season.
If she was intent on making her final year in the garnet and gold count, a quick glance at FSU's statistics this season shows that she's been accomplishing that task. Bravard's 17.5 points per game are a career-high and her 7.8 rebounds per game are equal to the career-best average she registered by season's end last year.
She's first and second, respectively, in scoring and rebounding for the 'Noles and is second and sixth in each of those two categories in the conference.
"She wanted to have a big year and I think really her working hard enough but our other perimeter players getting her the ball has been significant," Semrau said. "They've been getting her the ball and she's put up great numbers with it. I think it's exciting for her."
FSU's ability to get the ball inside to Bravard is critical to the team's success.
As FSU's lone senior, Bravard will travel to Nashville, Tenn. tomorrow to take on Vanderbilt Thursday before her final two regular-season non-conference games the last few days of the calendar year. The Seminoles then open Atlantic Coast Conference play against Maryland on Jan. 2 in what will mark Bravard's last chance to run the gauntlet that is the league schedule.
The Seminoles' ever-so-tough schedule to this point -- games Arkansas, Florida, Louisville, Nebraska and Ohio State -- has prepared Florida State for the rigors of the ACC and has resulted in a better understanding of what opponents will do to limit Bravard's touches.
"They'll double her and sometimes they'll triple her," Semrau said. "We have worked on that a lot because we are going to see that. We are going to see a lot of different ways to try to shut Cierra down. We have to prepare for that and they other players have to step up big and they've done that in a lot of games."
Bravard understands the pressure that's being placed upon her 6-foot-4 frame. Better yet, she understands the benefits of what can happen when she draws those double- and triple-teams.
"I take it as a compliment that other teams' gameplan is to double team me," Bravard said. "To look at the positives of that, somebody else will be open. We are getting to the point where we are getting better at finding those people. Everybody is starting to see that. When I'm open, they are going to get me the ball and do what I can to score.
"When I'm not, we've got to just play off of it and everybody is starting to gain more confidence doing that."
At 6-5 overall, the Seminoles have weathered the storm of one of the toughest opening-season schedules in program history and are coming off perhaps their best overall game of the season in the 86-41 win over Alabama A&M Monday.
But it doesn't get any easier from here on out. And Bravard will have to continue to play well, make those around her better, and lead her teammates both on and off the court as FSU pushes for yet another run into March.
"She's extremely significant and her voice is going to really carry -- and that's the way it should be," Semrau said. "A lot is on her shoulders. When a lot is expected of you, I think you can fold and Cierra has not done that."