Florida State, South Carolina like to scrimmage in preseason
STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) Leticia Romero might not remember all the details. Yet one thing comes to mind from Florida State's six-point defeat to South Carolina in the Elite Eight two years ago.
''It was a fight,'' the Seminoles' star from Spain said. ''I remember finishing the game and my whole body was hurting. We fought and they did, too.''
Here they come again, with the top-seeded Gamecocks (30-4) still chasing their first NCAA championship and the No. 3 seed Seminoles (28-6) determined to reach the program's first Final Four at long last.
A'ja Wilson remembers the previous NCAA matchup, all right.
''Going to the Final Four and just that feeling,'' the South Carolina star recalled Sunday. ''That's something that I really want these girls to experience and that's what we're going to go out there and try to do.''
Florida State coach Sue Semrau has chosen to scrimmage the Gamecocks in recent preseasons, then found herself cheering for Dawn Staley's team throughout the season.
''We love that opportunity, because we have so much respect for South Carolina and the job that Dawn's done and the program and team that they have put together,'' Semrau said.
''Really you look back to those scrimmage situations, and as a scrimmage partner, you follow them throughout the year because you're a fan. Just have a ton of respect for who they are and how far they have come.''
Staley appreciates the kind words as her team tries to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2015.
''I hope that our team plays a style of play that could make any coach proud,'' Staley said.
Here are some things to watch for Monday night at Stockton Arena:
SLAUGHTER'S RELIABLE HANDS: Ivey Slaughter's mother made her choose around fifth grade: basketball or gymnastics.
''Well, funny story, I started doing gymnastics when I was younger, and I guess that helped me with flexibility, quick agilities. But then my mom made me decide I had to play basketball or do gymnastics, and gymnastics was very costly and I chose basketball,'' Slaughter said. ''And I think that really helped me a lot with just my hands, my hand-eye coordination.''
She had a career-high nine steals - a women's NCAA regional record - in the Seminoles' Saturday comeback against Oregon State, including one momentum-changer to start the second half.
''I think the ball just kind of fell in my hands,'' Slaughter said.
As far as picking hoops over handsprings?
''We're happy you did,'' Semrau said with a grin.
THE NEXT STEP: Semrau knows how much it would mean for Florida State to take that long-awaited step and reach the Final Four.
Her players understand the opportunity, too.
''That would be something that Florida State's never done in program history,'' Brittany Brown said. ''It would be something we would always remember as a group.''
Semrau is so proud of the young women she leads for many more reasons than what they achieve on the court.
In fact, she is doing all she can to reaffirm to her players the importance of self confidence in every step of their basketball and life journeys - not matter what happens Monday night.
''We talk in our program about becoming strong, beautiful, powerful women. That's more important to me than whether or not we go to the Final Four, is that that character is developed in these young women, and I have an amazing staff that helps us with that,'' she said.
''This game, it's so interesting, because I remember when I was a young coach hearing people say, `Why is your goal the Final Four?' Because then you're going to get to the Final Four and you've achieved your goal,''' she said.
''That's the pinnacle. And for so many programs, that seems to be the pinnacle, and so there's a lot of pressure that is put on to get to that game.''
WILSON'S SHIN GUARDS: Here's a rare sight: shin guards for basketball. The 6-foot-5 Wilson relies on that leg protection.
''Last year I was battling with shin issues and I always had kind of a bad habit of a person kind of kicking me in the shins, and it would really, really hurt,'' she said.
SHOOTING FROM DEEP: Florida State won despite going 0 for 5 from long range. South Carolina shot 10 for 16 to rout 12th seed Quinnipiac 100-58 on Saturday.
But the Seminoles' perimeter defense proved tough, with Beavers leading scorer Sydney Wiese missing all 10 of her 3-point tries and her team going 2 for 17.
''I'm really confident in our defense,'' Romero said. ''That's what's going to take us to the next level.''
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