FSU excited for opportunity in (expanded) Big Dance

Florida State’s 7-6 start was about as bumpy as imaginable. So the Seminoles are both happy to be in the NCAA Tournament as well as curious about what they can accomplish after finishing the season playing their best basketball.

“Injuries just hit us hard the whole first half of the year,” junior forward Erin Howard said. “I was out, Bianca Jackson was out, Kourtney Weber was in and out. I think it was very hard to try and find a lineup and coach Sue (Semrau) couldn’t really know who she wanted out there and who was going to be the best fit for us.”

Semrau and the staff did their best to juggle the roster, using 12 starting lineups, but the losses piled up. She often referenced staying true to the process and letting younger players develop on the court. FSU closed with a 7-3 mark in its final 10 games, picking up top 50 NET wins over No. 20 Notre Dame, No. 28 Georgia Tech and No. 48 Boston College (twice). That includes what likely amounted to a play-in game in the ACC Tournament for the right to be in the field of 68, a win over BC to get into the expanded field for the NCAA Women’s Tournament.

FSU (17-13) will play Missouri State (24-7) on Thursday at 9 p.m. (ESPN2) in a matchup of No. 11 seeds. The winner will face Ohio State (23-6) on Saturday.

Watching the Seminoles play late in 2021 or even at times in January, there was no real indication they were worthy of a spot in the NCAA Tournament. And there have often been times within games where FSU has put together shaky performances. 

“When we had 10 games left in the season, that was kind of the final stretch,” guard Sammie Puissis said. “We sat down and said, ‘We need to get seven of these.’ And we did.”

This is clearly a source of pride for the Seminoles: They can both be an established women’s basketball program that annually intends on being in the Big Dance but also thrilled that they navigated a challenging journey to get to this point. FSU is one of eight programs to make the NCAA Tournament in each of the last nine years, joining Baylor, Louisville, Maryland, South Carolina, Stanford, Tennessee and UConn.

“This is a program that goes to the NCAA tournament and to have teams that have been able to do that for nine consecutive years, and you can throw in the 2020 (canceled tournament) year, that would be 10 consecutive years,” FSU coach Sue Semrau said. “There’s only 2 percent of the teams in the country that are in that category right now. And this is a program that is very, very proud of that and just hugely excited to get the opportunity to play in the Big Dance.”