Virginia (13-7, 3-3 ACC) fits the profile of a solid but not special team. They beat who they are supposed to beat and they lose games to the better teams, with the exception of an impressive 20 point home win against Miami. The Hoos unfortunately lost Senior guard Faith Randolph who was their second leading scorer and rebounder to a broken thumb injury a few weeks ago against Notre Dame. They also lost arguably their best player from last year when forward Sarah Imovbioh decided to transfer in the offseason. Injuries can happen to any team and transfers have become almost routine in women's basketball but UVA is not at the point in their development where they can whether these kind of losses and still hang with a team like FSU. That was proven tonight as Florida State (15-4, 5-1 ACC) overcame some rough patches to pull away late to get a 70-48 win.
The game started out close. UVA broke the scoring seal with a three pointer from Mikayla Venson. However FSU was able to gain control due to tough defense and especially rugged rebounding. The Noles ended up winning the rebounding battle 42-26 and that advantage started in the first quarter. The Seminoles would need those rebounds because the shooting was off for both teams but particularly FSU. Avert your eyes because these are some horrid numbers. In the first half Florida State shot 31.6% (12-38) from the field, 16.7% (2-12) from three and 33.3% (4-12) from the free throw line. The Noles were able to maintain the lead in the face of all the misses (to be fair several were halfway down and rimmed out, but still) because they outrebounded the Cavaliers on the offensive boards in the first half 14-2. That translated to 38 first half shots for FSU versus 21 for UVA. Getting that many more shots than your opponent is a great way to overcome poor shooting. This allowed FSU to take a 30-23 halftime lead.
To end the third quarter FSU hit UVA with a 16-4 run to effectively end the Cavs' hopes. Ivey Slaughter (13pts, 10reb) and Shakayla Thomas (20pts) powered FSU during this stretch. Slaughter was great on the glass and Thomas was her usual deadly self in transition. Thomas also missed a breakaway dunk in this game where the ball slipped out of her hand before she could throw it down. She was high enough to grab the rim however. It was impressive for a 5'11 player to get so high although Coach Semrau might prefer the easy layup in the future.
In the fourth quarter the Noles used a more balanced attack to close out the game. Five different players scored in the quarter and the entire 10 player roster got minutes.
Overall this was an encouraging game for FSU in many respects. They shot relatively poorly for the game (40.6% FG, 16.7% 3pt, 57.9% FT) and yet they were able to get a relatively easy 22 point win against a middle of the road ACC team. The key is the rebounding. Rebounding helps a team get extra shots on the offensive end and end possessions on the defensive end. As we saw tonight it can save a team that goes through a cold spell. FSU rebounds well basically every game and it is the main reason they remain formidable and one of the few true threats to make the Final Four.
Depth remains an issue but Kai James had a strong game (10pts, 8rebs) and played effective minutes tonight especially in the second quarter. If she can continue her development that would be a big plus for the Noles as they face better teams.
FSU was also able to keep the turnovers down with only 12 for the game. They forced 22 Cavalier turnovers. If the Noles are able to continue this relatively clean play they will be a handful for anyone.
Defensively FSU has been predominately a man to man team but lately the Noles have been mixing in a lot of zone. This continued tonight and the Seminoles were largely effective. As we discussed they ruled the boards but they were also able to hold UVA to 39.2% shooting on the night. The zone can be very useful for FSU going forward, both as a changeup for the other team and as a way to keep certain players out of foul trouble.
The bottom line is that Florida State is piling up wins and moving up in the polls and the potential seed lines for the NCAA Tournament. As we have discussed, it is critical for FSU to get a top four seed so that they can get home games for the first two rounds. If this happens FSU will have a great chance to make the Sweet 16 because as they proved again tonight Florida State is extremely difficult to beat in Tallahassee.
Florida State will travel to Coral Gables to take on the (#16) Miami Hurricanes on Sunday January 24 at 1pm (ESPN 3). Obviously any game against the Canes is big due to the rivalry factor. But this game has more importance than usual. Miami will be the first ranked team FSU has played since losing to Arizona State in Tempe in December (Louisville is ranked now but weren't when the Noles played them). All of FSU's losses this year have come to teams currently ranked in the AP top 25 poll. The Seminoles are currently 0-4 against these ranked opponents. On the one hand it is good that FSU has no bad losses but on the other hand the Noles need to get a few more impressive wins. Right now FSU's only win against a likely tournament team was against Rutgers on December 3rd. FSU needs to beat future tournament teams to impress the committee and Sunday is their first chance in the last three weeks to do so.
Miami (17-2, 5-1 ACC) is coming off of a game at UNC where head coach Katie Meier got her 200th win as a head coach at UM. Meier has done a great job in Miami and has put the program in a place where they can legitimately expect to challenge for the Sweet 16 every year. The Canes are led on the court by their best player All-ACC guard Adrienne Motley. Motley leads the Canes in scoring (16.2pts) and is electric in transition as well as being quick enough to get to the tin off the bounce. Her battle with Brittany Brown will be worth the price of admission.
Overall Miami profiles as a good rebounding team that shoots very well inside the arc but only average outside the arc. Defensively Miami plays mostly man to man and it will be interesting to see if they continue this against the Noles.
Miami has a gaudy record but there isn't much meat on the bone. Their best win was a 73-44 blowout of NC State and they did play (#4) Baylor close losing 88-81. UM has been playing well of late beating teams by double digit scores. However, beating FSU would give them by far their best win of the year to date and greatly enhance their prospective NCAA seeding.
FSU swept Miami last year (80-60 in Tallahassee and 69-55 in Miami). The Canes are anxious to prove that they are better than last year and FSU has yet to conclusively prove that they have reached last year's level. This game will be big for both teams and the winner would serve notice that they are definitely a top three ACC team and deserve to be considered a major force nationally.