FSU women’s hoops returns from break, hits road for Va. Tech

It has been a season of learning for the Florida State women’s basketball team under interim head coach Brooke Wyckoff. And just like everything else in 2020, it is being done under unfamiliar circumstances. 

The Seminoles have only played four games (out of eight possible) so far due to COVID-19. And while Wyckoff has worked hard to lead Florida State in Coach Sue Semrau’s absence, the unconventional season has thrown many curveballs her way. 

The next curveball is a matchup against a formidable Virginia Tech team.

“We are excited to be back after Christmas,” Wyckoff said. “There has been shuffling of the schedule, so to be able to even have this game against this opponent (at their place) is going to be a great challenge for our team.”  

The game on Thursday against the Hokies (noon, live stream on ACC Network Extra) will be only the second time that the Seminoles have left Tallahassee this season. Most of the games that were cancelled or postponed were away games, the only exception being a postponed game against Austin Peay that was to be played in Tallahassee. 

This leaves the Seminoles with a lack of experience on the road as they head out for a two-game stint away from home (FSU is also at Wake Forest on Jan. 3). The Seminoles’ only other road experience was a 69-72 loss against Clemson on Dec. 17. 

“Playing on the road in the ACC is always challenging,” Wyckoff said. “Doing it twice in a row with travel will be a good test for the team since it’s the first time this season. I think we are up for the challenge. We got a lot of good rest over the holidays. This team is just hungry to play.”

The Seminoles are 3-1 on the young season, the only loss being the game against Clemson two weeks ago. 

In those four games, Florida State has scored an average of 71.5 points per game on 43 percent shooting. The team has struggled slightly in shooting the basketball, particularly from three-point range, where FSU has shot just 25.4 percent. Kourtney Weber (16.8 points) is one of four scorers in double figures.

FSU has been stout defensively, forcing opponents to shoot only 37 percent percent from all ranges. The Seminoles’ defense has proven to be the determining factor in most of their games. 

Defense is Wyckoff’s strength. She finished her career at Florida State ranked second in blocks and seventh in rebounds. Since taking the lead with the defensive principles as an assistant coach in 2015, the Seminoles have had three years of holding opponents to an average of 60 points or less. Continuing to bring intensity on defense was one of the things she wanted to hyper-focus on as she transitioned into her interim role.

The upcoming game against Virginia Tech (6-1, 1-1) is going to be a tough game for Florida State. The Hokies are off to a strong start and have played more games than the ’Noles. 

Wyckoff is focused on how the players will respond to the adversity that will come with the game. Coming off their first loss of the season, how will those players respond? 

It’s a question that also applies to Wyckoff. With every venture into new territory for her players, she tests new waters as well. That is what makes her relationship with her players so intriguing. She is learning just as much as they are with every passing game. 

A continuing challenge has been the team’s situation at point guard. The team has no established ball-handler, using redshirt junior Bianca Jackson and sophomores Izabela Nicoletti and Sarah Bejedi. One early sore spot: FSU has 43 assists and 75 turnovers, an indication of the struggles in the half court offense. Jackson (13 assists, 12 turnovers) and Nicoletti (eight assists, seven turnovers) have a slightly positive ratio in that area but Bejedi (four assists, nine turnovers) does not and it’s indicative overall of an area where FSU needs to improve.

Wyckoff was quick to recall a similar situation three years ago in which Nicki Ekhomu was forced to play point guard for much of the season after the Seminoles lost Brittany Brown to graduation the previous season. In the following year, the Seminoles erupted to a 13-0 start due to Ekhomu’s diligence at the point guard position.

It’s those experiences that has made Wyckoff adapt well to her interim position. The ability to be flexible based on prior experiences with the team is something that is invaluable to Wyckoff, who acknowledges that her transition has been much easier than other first-time head coaches.

“I hope I’m improving,” Wyckoff said. “This group has made it so nice for this kind of transition. They are a great group to coach. They are great people, and they work hard every day. I have to focus on making sure I have them going in the right direction. I had no idea how I would be as a head coach, but I always go back to ‘What would Coach Sue do?’ I’ve watched her do it for so long, I find myself trying to emulate her character and her emotional intelligence.”

Wyckoff and the Seminoles hope to achieve their seventh straight 3-1 start to ACC play with a victory against the Hokies on Thursday.

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Brooke Wyckoff, who has guided FSU to a 3-1 start, instructs the team during a timeout. (photo by Mike Olivella)