ACCWBB in NCAA Sweet 16: Florida State Bounced by Baylor

DALLAS (seminoles.com)  -- Florida State entered Saturday’s Dallas Regional semifinal looking to take down top-seeded Baylor and assert, once and for all, its place among the nation’s elite.

Baylor, however, refused to share the stage.

The Lady Bears’ defense smothered FSU on one end of the floor and star guard Nina Davis dominated on the other as Baylor cruised to a 78-58 victory over the Seminoles here at the American Airlines Center.

Leticia Romero scored 11 points to lead Florida State, which finished its season 25-8 after reaching back-to-back Sweet 16s for the first time in school history. Baylor is onto Monday’s Elite Eight, where it will face either Oregon State.

“We got beat by a great team today,” FSU coach Sue Semrau said. “… I think, too, that I'm proud of what this team was able to accomplish. I think we really had to find ourselves and I thought we were able to put together a pretty good run down the stretch.”

After No. 1 seeds South Carolina and Notre Dame went down on Friday, the Seminoles hoped that the wave of upsets across the women’s NCAA tournament would reach Dallas by Saturday afternoon.

And, at least for a few moments early on, it looked like it might.

Despite shooting just 3 of 10 from the field to start the game, FSU withstood an early flurry and took a 12-9 lead when Maria Conde drained a 3-pointer midway through the first period.

But Baylor soon got hot while FSU’s shooters stayed cold.

Aided by five FSU turnovers in less than five minutes, Baylor launched an 18-3 run that gave the Lady Bears a 27-15 advantage.

FSU, meanwhile, missed 9 of its 11 field-goal attempts in the second quarter and went into halftime shooting just 25 percent (8 for 32). By then, the Bears led 40-26.

Take away four 3-pointers – the Seminoles actually shot fairly well from outside – and that FSU’s percentage dropped to 15.3 percent.

“We had open looks, we just didn’t knock them down,” junior guard Brittany Brown said. “And I think, at some point in the game, we kind of let our offense dictate our defense, and we're a much better team when our defense turns over to our offense.”

Davis, Baylor’s senior guard and the Big 12 Player of the Year last season, scored 30 points and grabbed five rebounds. Fellow guard Alexis Jones added 15 points and nine boards.

On the other side, FSU’s top two scorers, Shakayla Thomas and Adut Bulgak, struggled to get in rhythm and finished with just 10 and five points, respectively.

That was due in part to foul trouble – Bulgak picked up two in the first period and played just 21 minutes in the game – and also due to Baylor’s stingy interior defense.

The Lady Bears came into the game ranked second nationally in field-goal percentage defense.

“We didn’t take advantage of what we had,” Bulgak said. “And we had a lot of errors. Turnovers. Things we could have controlled.”

With foul trouble across the roster, the Seminoles were forced out of their comfort zones and could no longer aggressively attack or defend.

Five Seminoles finished with at least three fouls, and Bulgak and forward Ivey Slaughter fouled out in the fourth quarter.

“It changes us,” Semrau said. “And we didn’t expect, in the NCAA tournament, to be called the tight. But it was, and we didn’t adjust.”

After the break, FSU put a brief scare into the Lady Bears by mounting a rally and cutting its lead to 50-42 midway through the third quarter.

But the energy required to complete that kind of comeback soon took its toll: Baylor immediately answered with an 8-2 run of its own and to stretch its lead back to double digits.

“Third quarter, I thought we played really well,” Semrau said. “Then we just ran out of gas in the fourth.”

POST-GAME NOTES COMPILED BY FSU SPORTS INFORMATION:
• Florida State finishes its season with a 25-8 overall record, tying for its fifth-most wins in program history.
• For the third consecutive NCAA postseason game, FSU finished with four student-athletes in double-figure points: Leticia Romero (11), Shakayla Thomas (10), Ivey Slaughter (10) and Brittany Brown (10).
• Junior guard Brittany Brown and sophomore forward Shakayla Thomas each led FSU with nine rebounds apiece.
• Brittany Brown added three more steals to finish the season with 98, the second-most in program history. Brown came within three steals of breaking the school record of 101 by the late Alicia Gladden (101 steals in 2004-05).
• Leticia Romero led FSU in the NCAA postseason with 15 points per game, and also averaged 4.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists. She was also 6-of-8 in the NCAA Tournament from beyond the arc.
• Saturday’s game ends the careers of seniors Adut Bulgak and Emiah Bingley. Both players were driving forces behind FSU’s NCAA Sweet 16 bids in consecutive seasons, including the NCAA Elite Eight in 2015.
• FSU entered the NCAA Sweet 16 as one of eight teams who made consecutive appearances in the regional semifinals.
• The Seminoles tied the Bears in total rebounds 38-38, the first time FSU has tied an opponent on the glass this year. FSU out-rebounded its opponents in 27 of its 33 games played this season.
• In a year where the state of Florida had four teams in the AP Top 25 for the first time ever, FSU was the last Sunshine State team remaining in the field.
• Besides returning much of its core next season, the Seminoles also bring in the fourth-ranked recruiting class in the country.
• Shakayla Thomas’ 524 total points ties for the seventh-most in FSU history with former player Tia Paschal (1992-93). Her 227 field goals made is also fifth-most in a season at FSU.