It’s a top-20 matchup at the Donald L. Tucker Center on Thursday night as No. 8 Florida State women’s basketball team hosts No. 19 Michigan State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. on the ACC Network.
“We’ve been here before, but not with this group,” FSU coach Sue Semrau said. “I think it’s important that we educate them. We make sure they understand that there’s no reason to relax. It’s not like we’ve arrived. We’ve got so much more to do, and we have to point out those things and work on those things specifically in practice and in games.”
The Seminoles (7-0) own a 10-2 record in the annual conference challenge, which matches Duke (10-2) for the best record among all current ACC and Big Ten teams in the challenge. Florida State has won seven consecutive Big Ten/ACC Challenge games, the longest active win streak of any current ACC or Big Ten school in the challenge.
FSU is riding high following a resounding 80-58 victory over then-No. 6 Texas A&M at the Maggie Dixon Classic in Fort Worth, Texas. The win vaulted the Seminoles to eighth in the AP Poll, FSU’s highest rank since also being ranked eighth in the poll on Jan. 22, 2018. FSU has spent 34 weeks in the AP Top 10 since 2014.
Florida State’s three seniors (Nicki Ekhomu, Kiah Gillespie, Nausia Woolfolk) accounted for 61 of FSU’s 80 points scored last game vs. Texas A&M (76.3 percent of scoring).
The Seminoles shot 53.3 percent (32-of-60) against No. 6 Texas A&M last game. It was their best shooting performance vs. a Top 10 opponent since shooting 57.4 percent (31 of 54) in an 80-74 home win over No. 2 Duke on Feb. 4, 2004.
Redshirt senior forward Kiah Gillespie averaged 19.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in big wins last week over SEC opponents Florida (W, 66-55) and No. 6 Texas A&M. Her 18 boards at UF matched her career high, and her 22 points against the Aggies marked her season high.
FSU is looking for consecutive Top 25 wins in pre-conference games (games prior to ACC play) for the first time since 1992 (defeated No. 16 Miami on 12/18 and defeated No. 20 Tennessee Tech on 12/21). Overall, FSU has won back-to-back games vs. Top 25 opponents seven different times.
The Spartans (6-1) own a 72-69 road win at Notre Dame, and are coming off a 65-60 victory over Kansas State. Their lone blemish is a 58-56 loss to LSU, which FSU defeated. Sophomore guard Nia Clouden is leading the Spartans with 15.4 points per game. She also has a team-leading 19 steals, as MSU ranks eighth nationally with 102 steals.
Michigan State is also skilled on the offensive glass, ranking seventh in the country with 18.1 offensive boards per game.
FSU volleyball set for NCAA Tournament
As one of just 11 schools to reach the NCAA Tournament each year since 2009, Florida State will begin the 2019 postseason with a match against UCF (24-7) on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The game will stream live on ESPN3.
The Noles and Knights will play at Exactech Arena in Gainesville, as No. 12 Florida is hosting the first and second rounds of the tournament.
“UCF is a very good team that is very well coached,” said FSU coach Chris Poole. “Their players do a good job of staying in system and have an outside, McKenna Melville, that is as good as there is anywhere in the country. They are also very well balanced, so you don’t know exactly who they are going to go to at any given time. They are a dangerous team and we are preparing for a tough match.”
Florida State is 26-4 all-time against UCF, including winning each of the last 17 matches, dating back to 1984. Thursday’s match will be the first time that the Seminoles and Knights will meet in the NCAA Tournament.
Overall, FSU is 18-23 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including a record of 16-10 under Poole, with five trips to the regionals, as well as a national semifinal appearance in 2011.
The Seminoles are 3-6 this season against teams that have made the 2019 NCAA Volleyball Championship, including wins over No. 7-seed Minnesota, Louisville and Big East champion St. John’s.
Howell to participate in U.S. camp
Florida State midfielder and U.S. Youth National Teams veteran Jaelin Howell has replaced University of North Carolina defender Emily Fox on the U.S. Women’s National Team Identification Camp roster. The 24-player training camp will take place from Dec. 9-14 in Bradenton.
Fox, who has three USWNT caps, suffered a knee injury in UNC’s NCAA quarterfinal playoff victory against USC on Nov. 29.
Howell has trained with the USWNT once previously, in 2017 when she was 17. She played for the USA at both the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan and the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in France.
She started all 23 games she played for the Seminoles this season and scored five goals with four assists from her defensive midfield position, helping FSU into the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. During the 2018 season, she played in 26 matches as a freshman with 24 starts in helping the Seminoles win the NCAA Championship.