The University of Connecticut rolled into Tallahassee coming off of their fourth straight national championship season and with a 75 game winning streak on their resume. Florida State entered the game with a streak of their own on the line. The Seminoles have won 33 straight home games against non-conference foes. Unfortunately it was the FSU streak that ended as the Seminoles fell to the Huskies 78-76 in the TLCCC.
Both teams got off to cold shooting starts as both teams played tough man to man defense. FSU ended the quarter with a 17-16 lead despite shooting 7-22 (31.8%) principally due to a rebounding edge. UConn is not a deep team this year and FSU was able to exploit that weakness by putting fouls on the Huskies. Starter Gabby Williams (7pts, 6reb, 3ast) committed three fouls in the first five minutes for UConn and had to sit the rest of the half. The Huskies brought in center Natalie Butler (4pts, 6reb) and she gave UConn good minutes.
The second quarter was more of the same as FSU was able to outrebound UConn and turn them over but the Noles struggled to shoot so they were unable to ever get a large lead. In fact FSU went really cold toward the beginning of the quarter and the Huskies went on an 8-0 run that was stopped by FSU's first three of the night courtesy of Brittany Brown (16pts, 10reb, 7ast). From there FSU was able to battle back and take a 34-30 lead based on superior rebounding and ball security. In the first half FSU had only committed three turnovers while forcing 10 Husky turnovers.
In the second half FSU extended the lead to seven points (their biggest of the game) on a great steal and transition basket from Brown on which she was fouled by Kia Nurse. Brown converted the three point play. Connecticut proceeded to go on a 14-2 run to take a 44-39 lead. The run was keyed by great offensive execution by UConn along with the ice cold shooting that plagued the Seminoles all game. The Huskies also transitioned to a 2-3 zone in this stretch and FSU unwisely settled for jumpers rather than trying to exploit their size advantage down low.
FSU would battle back and tie the game at 46 on a steal and transition layup from Imani Wright (25pts, 5reb, 4stl). From there UConn ended the quarter on a 5-1 mini-run to take a 51-47 lead into the fourth quarter.
Wright started the fourth with a three and the teams traded baskets after that score. Midway through the quarter Connecticut hit FSU with a 7-2 run to take a 65-59 lead. From there FSU battled back to within one point on a layup from Wright but UConn wasn't finished. The Huskies scored seven straight to take a 73-65 lead with 2:35 remaining in the game. To their credit FSU refused to fold. The Noles scored six straight to pull within two. Then Saniya Chong (16pts, 6ast), UConn's only senior, stepped up big with an acrobatic drive to the basket for the Huskies when their offense was stalled to put UConn up 75-71 with 1:01 left. Wright promptly sank a big three for FSU. The Noles went on defense and got a stop but they couldn't secure the defensive rebound and were reduced to fouling with only 21 seconds left. Napheesa Collier (28pts, 8reb, 4blk) sank both free throws. to put UConn up 77-74.
Connecticut had fouls to give and they used them with two straight intentional fouls and then they committed an unintentional one by Kia Nurse on Brittany Brown when she was shooting a three to give FSU three foul shots to have a chance to tie the game. There looked to be miscommunication between the bench and the players on the play as Nurse looked unsure whether she should keep fouling. In any case, Brown hit the first two free throws but missed the third.
However, FSU was awarded the ball when the officials ruled that the rebound went out of bounds off of Natalie Butler. Butler and Slaughter were fighting for the rebound and the replay was inconclusive as to who the ball was off of so FSU retained possession down one with 13 seconds left.
The Noles went straight to their best player Shakayla Thomas (14pts, 7reb) who did exactly the right thing by going to the basket. FSU finally decided not to settle for a jumper but unfortunately it didn't work out as Collier came up with a huge, clean block. FSU had to foul and guard Crystal Dangerfield hit one of two free throws. The Noles still had life. Brown got the rebound she hustled it up court and got it to Wright who missed a long three to end the game.
Even without their Big 3 from last year (Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck) UConn is a talented team. For FSU to shoot only 36.1% (26.3% 3PT) and have a ball in the air for the win shows how much talent is on this team. Even without their starting point guard FSU nearly pulled off the huge win. Had they shot even slightly better the Noles would have gotten this victory.
FSU played pretty good defense for most of the game. There were few uncontested shots for UConn. Even though the boards were equal for the game at 38 FSU held an 18-8 offensive rebounding edge and that compensated for much of the cold shooting.
FSU played nine players but only seven saw extended minutes as Kai James and Ama Degbeon combined for only five minutes. Nicole Ekhomu was the only freshman to play for FSU. When Leticia Romero comes back that will be a nice eight player rotation for the Noles.
Wright was the high scorer for FSU and she made some big shots but Brown has to get special credit for her play in this game. She almost had a triple double but the stats don't tell nearly the whole story of how she played. FSU only had nine turnovers for the game (to 17 for UConn) and that was with Brown playing 36 minutes, virtually all of which was spent at point guard which isn't her natural position.
To be sure, this was a loss and a missed opportunity but on the whole this game has to be encouraging for Nole fans. FSU played without their senior All-American point guard, had a subpar shooting night, and still had a ball in the air for the win against UConn who for all of their losses from last year is still a legit top 5 team. FSU is for real. When Florida State gets Romero healthy and back in the rotation they will be a team to be reckoned with both in the ACC and nationally.
Florida State welcomes Jacksonville to the TLCCC on Thursday for a 6pm tip (ACC Network Extra).