Coming into this game the conventional wisdom was that Louisville was a team that was better than their record. The Cardinals had five losses but they were working on a five game winning streak. The question was whether that streak was because they were turning the corner with their impressive talent or whether the streak was mainly because they were taking advantage of a soft spot in their schedule. The Cards (9-5, 1-0 ACC) went a long way to answering that question with a big 79-69 win over (#15) Florida State (10-4, 0-1 ACC).
This game got off to a horrible start for the Seminoles. Adut Bulgak did get the first points of the game on a layup which gave the Noles what would be their only lead of the game. After that opening score UL went on a 18-2 run and from there the Noles were forced to play catch up for the rest of the game. The first quarter was FSU's worst of the season. The Seminoles only managed six points. Their previous low for a quarter was 14 against UConn.
It's not hard to see what the problem was in the first quarter. Florida State committed nine turnovers in the quarter. Many of these turnovers were of the live ball variety (UL had 17 points off turnovers in the first half) which allowed the young Cards to get more and more confidence that they could upset the favored Noles. FSU was down 19-6 after the first quarter. They ended up playing better later in the game and actually scored more points than Louisville after the first quarter (63-60) but when you put yourself in such a big hole, especially on the road, it's tough to come back.
After the nightmare first quarter FSU showed heart and kept playing. Kai James came off the bench and really provided a lift. James scored five straight points to cut the lead to eight early in the second quarter. Unfortunately for FSU every time they made a run to get back into the game the Cards had an answer. Sophomore Mariya Moore (20pts, 8ast) was big for UL and she had lots of help from Briahanna Jackson (15pts, 4st) and Myisha Hines-Allen (13pts, 3blk).
Adut Bulgak (22pts, 4-6 3pt) kept the Seminoles in it late and Shakayla Thomas (15pts, 7reb) had her usual strong game off the bench. However there were times in this game were it just seemed that the Noles couldn't get out of their own way. FSU finished with 24 turnovers (UL had 10) which is way too many to overcome against a team with Louisville's talent.
This isn't a terrible loss in the abstract. Louisville is young but they clearly have lots of talent. They had a top 2 recruiting class last year and those freshmen are getting better each game. However, FSU has aspirations to reach the Final Four. A Final Four team simply doesn't lose these types of games. Even if FSU gets things together this loss will hurt because it will hurt FSU's seed in the Tournament.
The Noles need to do several things to turn this around and become a true threat to win the ACC. First they need to cut down drastically on the turnovers. This has been a theme for the past few games. FSU really has only one true point guard in Leticia Romero so if she is out or if the defense denies her the ball FSU can struggle. The loss of Shakena Richardson (Seton Hall transfer) has been keenly felt in this area.
Secondly, FSU needs to stay out of foul trouble. The Noles have not shown the depth this year to survive when key players get in foul trouble. This hurt them against Arizona State in the last loss and was a factor in Louisville as both Leticia Romero and Emiah Bingley fouled out. Both Ivey Slaughter and Adut Bulgak ended with four fouls. That is 80% of the starting lineup. If the Noles can't play tough defense without fouling this will be a long year.
Third, FSU really needs to develop more depth. Sue Semrau currently has six players that she can count on from game to game. Kai James clearly has talent and from time to time she can play big like today when she had nine points and eight rebounds. However, this type of effort from James needs to be the norm for FSU to reach their ultimate goals. Also James needs to eliminate that rhythm dribble that she does to set herself before going up for a shot. She had three turnovers today and most of them were a result of that dribble which allows guards to reach in and grab the ball. Maria Conde is going to be a key player for the Seminoles in the future and she shows flashes of that future right now. The problem for her (as it is for most young players) is consistency. She is also still adjusting to the more physical American game. Ama Degbeon and Rachel Antoniadou didn't play today and are struggling for minutes.
Fourth, the Noles need to learn to play better on the road. It's no coincidence that all of the losses this season have come on the road. FSU's only road wins were in the LIU Turkey Classic against LIU-Brooklyn and Sam Houston State; not exactly Murderer's Row. The Noles would benefit from more leadership in tough road environments. In that terrible first quarter, Leticia Romero took only one shot. She had no shots during Louisville's 18-2 run that effectively won the game for the Cards. Sometimes it helps the team if the best players are more selfish.
All of these issues are correctable by a team this talented. However, they must start the correcting process soon. The good news is that the upcoming schedule is manageable. FSU should be working on a five game winning streak when they head to Miami to face the Canes on January 24. This was a disappointing loss but FSU still has most of the season ahead of them and has one of the most talented teams in the ACC. I still expect them to be right in the thick of things for an ACC title.
FSU returns to the TLCCC to face Boston College at 7pm on Thursday, January 7 on ESPN 3.