South Carolina and Florida State will meet for the third time in the past five seasons in the NCAA Tournament — only this one is a couple of rounds earlier.
The Gamecocks defeated the Seminoles in the Elite Eight in 2015 and 2017 in nip-and-tuck games to reach the Final Four, with South Carolina eventually winning the national championship the second time.
On Sunday, the two teams face off again at Halton Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the second round with the winner moving on to the Sweet 16. And while the names and faces may have changed over the last couple of seasons, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said she foresees a similar style in this game.
“Our games were knockdown, drag outs,” Staley said. “They were the type of games where a possession here or there and the results could have been different. I don’t think it will be any different on Sunday.”
The rosters will be. The Seminoles started five seniors in 2017 before losing to the Gamecocks 71-64 in Stockton, California. This time, No. 5 seed Florida State (24-8) has nine freshmen and sophomores and no seniors on the roster.
Fourth-seeded South Carolina (22-9) has a much different look as well, still adjusting to playing without one of the nation’s most dominant players in A’ja Wilson, who scored a school-record 2,389 career points and won the WNBA Rookie of the Year award in 2018 with the Las Vegas Aces.
Seminoles coach Sue Semrau didn’t want to indulge in a comparison, though.
“That was two different teams and two different times,” Semrau said. “It doesn’t matter who you play. It’s the second round and two teams that are excited about the chance to advance.”
Here are five things to watch in Sunday’s game between Florida State and South Carolina:
BACK IN ACTION
Staley did not play senior Bianca Cuevas-Moore against Belmont in the first round while junior Mikiah Herbert Harrigan only played in the second half for unspecified reasons. However, Staley said both players will be available against Florida State.
Staley said neither player was suspended.
“I chose not to play them for my reasons that I’m not going to tell you,” Staley said.
ON THE GLASS
Florida State outrebounded Bucknell 44-23 in the first round game, picking up extra points by keeping possessions alive with strong offensive rebounding. Kiah Gillespie was the catalyst, scoring 17 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
“Their offensive rebounding is big, so we have to do a good job of boxing them out,” said South Carolina’s Bianca Jackson.
Point guard Tyasha Harris was a difference-maker in South Carolina’s 74-52 first-round win over Belmont, displaying the ability to make plays for herself and create opportunities for her teammates with 12 points, six assists and two rebounds.
“She’s such a special guard,” Semrau said. “She can see the floor, she can score it and she has great players around her.”
But Semrau said the Seminoles can’t pay too much attention to Harris, knowing other players like Alexis Jennings and Te’a Cooper can hurt her team, too. South Carolina had four players in double figures against Belmont, led by Cooper’s 13.
STOPPING THE TRANSITION
Florida State freshman Morgan Jones said the key to beating South Carolina is bracing for the Gamecocks’ aggressiveness and keeping them from piling up the fast-break points.
“They are a very physical team so we have to be ready for that, being there to help all of the time with locking on the post players and stopping them in transition,” Jones said.
The Gamecocks have reached the Sweet 16 in each of the past five seasons and six of the last seven overall since Staley was hired as coach. The only time the Gamecocks didn’t advance to the Sweet 16 was in 2013 when they were a No. 4 seed. South Carolina is a No. 4 seed this year, too.