Ward helps Florida State beat Mississippi State
DAYTON, Ohio (AP) – Moments after her team had pulled off the biggest win in Florida State history, coach Sue Semrau was already facing questions about her team’s next opponent.
So, Semrau was asked, is Connecticut the greatest team of all time?
“I haven’t been around for all-time, so I can’t tell you if they’re the greatest team of all-time,” she said, clearly put off.
Courtney Ward scored the third-seeded Seminoles’ last six points in the final 38 seconds, leading the way to a 74-71 victory over No. 7 seed Mississippi State on Sunday in the Dayton Regional semifinal.
Florida State (29-5) advanced to meet No. 1-seeded UConn (36-0), which beat Iowa State in the earlier semi, in Tuesday night’s regional final. The Huskies rolled to a 78-59 win when they met earlier in the season.
After Semrau and her players spoke briefly about their big victory, Semrau was asked about that earlier game against the Huskies and whether it might leave the Seminoles intimidated.
“If I put myself in the heads of 18- to 22-year-olds who have watched Connecticut annihilate people, I think there’d be trepidation,” she said. “We haven’t just watched it; we’ve been there in a game with UConn. And that will help us in our approach.”
To reach the showdown with Connecticut, Florida State had to summon up a gutsy effort, particularly in the closing moments. Then the Seminoles, who got 21 points from Alysha Harvin and 14 from Ward, celebrated by dousing their coach with water in the dressing room.
“Actually, the whole team got Coach,” Ward said with a guilty grin.
The Seminoles, who set a school mark with their 29th win, earned their first spot ever in a regional title game.
“It means a lot,” said Jacinta Monroe, who added 11 points. “I can barely put it into words.”
Chanel Mokango scored 20 points and Mary Kathryn Govero had 19 for the Lady Bulldogs (21-13), who went deeper in the tournament this year than ever before. Alexis Rack had 13 points and Armelie Lumanu added 11 points and 15 rebounds.
After 11 ties and 14 lead changes, the Seminoles finally got the lead for good with 1:40 left when Harvin was fouled during a loose-ball scrum and broke a tie at 66 by hitting both foul shots.
“It was back and forth,” said Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning-Otis. “It was whoever made the best play late.”
Rack lost control of the ball on a drive as the shot clock was ticking down on the ensuing possession, with the Seminoles’ Christian Hunnicutt batting the ball forward to Ward who was all alone for a layup with 38 seconds left to give FSU a 70-66 lead.
The Seminoles then ended up with the ball after a jump ball and Ward was fouled with 18.5 seconds left. She hit both ends of the bonus situation.
The Lady Bulldogs answered with a 3 by Tysheka Grimes with 9 seconds left that cut the lead in half. On the play, a foul was called away from the ball. After a brief discussion by the officials, it was determined that Lumanu was fouled while getting ready to rebound. Florida State coach Sue Semrau laughed when a referee explained the call to her.
Lumanu made both foul shots, cutting the lead to 72-71. But Florida State was able to inbound to Ward and she was fouled almost immediately. Again she stepped to the line and the 80-percent foul shooter made both.
Rack took the inbounds and dribbled 50 feet to near her own bench before letting fly with a desperation 3. It was on line but just long as the buzzer sounded.
“We came a long way,” Rack said of her team. “We left it all on the court. We played our hardest.”
Semrau chose to think about what the victory meant to her program, instead of what it would mean come Tuesday night.
“We’ve been trying to establish something stronger than just one year,” she said. “This win, this appearance in the Elite Eight, helps us establish ourselves as a national contender in women’s basketball.”