STOCKTON, Calif. – For the past two seasons, Florida State and South Carolina have scrimmaged each other during the off-season. The two teams last met as official competitors during the Elite Eight in 2015 in Greensboro, N.C. The Gamecocks ended FSU’s run that year but the teams face off again, thousands of miles away on the West Coast for a chance to play in the Final Four later this week in Dallas. FSU talked about the Gamecocks and more Sunday when they met with the media.
Transcript of Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon and please welcome Florida State head coach, Sue Semrau and student athletes Shakalya Thomas, Ivey Slaughter, Leticia Romero, Brittany Brown and Imani Wright.
SUE SEMRAU: We’re excited to be here and it’s a nice ACC/SEC matchup here out west and have a lot of respect for South Carolina and the job that they do and looking forward to the matchup.
Q. What do you remember about that South Carolina matchup, your freshman year, the team playing in its Elite 8, just how tough was that game, and how much are you looking forward to the rematch tomorrow?
SHAKAYLA THOMAS: It was a great match-up. I remember them coming out and it was a great game. We started off a little slow but as we picked up, it became like a really intense game. This matchup, to me, it’s going to help us redeem ourselves, like this is what I’ve personally been looking forward to for the longest, so I’m excited.
Q. We talked a little bit with everybody last night about defense, but South Carolina hit ten of 16 threes yesterday, and your defense was able to take that away from Oregon State. How much is that going to factor in tomorrow in terms of doing what you did yesterday to take players out of the perimeter game?
BRITTANY BROWN: It’s a big factor, but it’s just something, that’s what we do. That’s been our bread and butter all year, our biggest difference-maker and why we’re here today is because of our defending and rebounding ability.
So that’s just what we’re going to hone into again. That’s with every opponent that we play, but as we talked, even with Oregon State, it’s a team effort. It’s a collective effort from everyone on the team from our guards to our post. And a lot of people think that just because you’re guarding on the perimeter, that it’s just the guard’s responsibility, but it comes a lot from our posts and hedging and things like that.
So it will be a team effort but we’ll just continue to do what we’ve been doing all season.
Q. Leticia, and Coach, correct me if this is incorrect. I came across a note that said in the first 42 years of this program, Florida State had never had a team hold opponents to 60 points or less over the course of a season, but in the last two or three years, you all have been able to do that. Does that sound close to the —
SUE SEMRAU: Yeah, that sounds like a Steve Stone stat if I ever heard one.
Q. Could you talk about the commitment to defense that this team in particular with this program in general has made in the last couple three years?
LETICIA ROMERO: I think it’s part of us. It’s part of our game. It’s something we’ve been working on since preseason. There are a lot of teams that can score. So if you want to make it to the top, I think you have to have a really good defense. I think we have great defenders here, starting with Brittany and Ivey. I think they are our team leaders in defense, and that gives us a lot of energy just seeing them, how they fight, they defend, they help each other. It’s just a team effort, like she said. But I’m really confident about our defense and that’s what’s going to take us to the next level.
Q. Early in the game, they not only scored baskets but got a lot of really easy shots, but in the second half, you held them to 18 points. Was there anything specific you tried to change around defensively from the struggles early in the game to the absolute shutdown late in the game? And if you could talk about getting nine steals in one game. It seems like quite a few.
IVEY SLAUGHTER: I think we just picked up our defensive intensity in the second half. I think in the first half, we kind of played a little timid, and we had like a lot of jitters, I believe, in the first half.
I think just coming out in the second half, we knew that we had to fight and we knew we had to get defensive stops, because once we play great defense, it dictates our offense. And for the steals, I think I just tried to play my best defense and I think the ball just kind of fell in my hands.
Q. Brittany, we’ve talked before, and you’ve told me about how you’ve wanted to change this program when you got here and how to build on that. But you’re one gym away from a Final Four. What would it mean for you, for I guess Ivey and for that senior class to be the program that broke through?
BRITTANY BROWN: That’s just the culture here at Florida State. We’re big on honor and legacy and honoring those that came before us. They set this path for us and we basically just kind of carried it on.
I think it will be really special for our seniors, but it’s just this group, period. All these girls, if we make it to the final — we win, we win and make it to the Final Four, that will be something that Florida State has never done in program history. So it will be something that we always remember as a group, so I’m excited for it.
Q. In the first quarter of each NCAA Tournament game, you guys have only scored 12 points in each first quarter. What is going on with the slow starts, and what is Sue saying to you guys to snap you out of it and get you back to where you can play strong offense?
LETICIA ROMERO: I don’t know what’s going on. I think if I knew, it wouldn’t happen. Honestly I think we just start really slow, I don’t know if it’s confidence or we don’t know how the game is going to be or we need something at the beginning to start playing our game.
What Coach was telling us was to come grab the game. Just attack them, be aggressive and not wait or hold back or wait for them to make mistakes. We have to wait for them to make mistakes. That’s going to be our biggest focus, too, starting the game well against these teams.
Q. Going off the slow starts, but coming back off of slow starts, you’ve outscored opponents, I think it’s 192 to 118 over the final three quarters. What does it say about this team that you are still managing to dominate opponents, even after slow starts?
SUE SEMRAU: You know, it’s interesting, I don’t think that players always hear you in the huddles. And so what Leti is saying, and you’re asking, what are we saying, it’s to remember who we are defensively. We can’t — we got great looks. We didn’t knock them down it.
Now we have to not allow that offensive — it’s efficiency, but we haven’t gotten productivity, effect our defensive end of the floor. I don’t know what that’s been because we were exactly opposite the beginning of the year. You know, we would come out really strong.
So I don’t think it’s necessarily a habit. I don’t think it has anything to do — I think it’s a big stage and we hadn’t played in a week, so that’s part of it, as well.
Q. Just to follow up on what’s being said in huddles, I looked over and it looked like Leti is leading the huddle. How good is it to see players taking responsibility for what’s happening on the floor?
SUE SEMRAU: That’s something we’ve worked really hard to develop, and as coaches, we stay away. I mean, we’ve got a 2:45 timeout. So if your players are sitting there waiting for and you walk in with two minutes or 2:30 to talk, they are only going to hear the last bit, anyway.
So that communication that they have developed and the confidence to hold one another accountable to give instruction and to receive instruction and to respond to each other, we’ve worked really hard at that and that’s a big difference in our huddles right now.
Q. There’s a lot of communities around the country that have held Sweet 16s for either men or women, but Stockton is obviously something new for this community. Could you reflect on the days you’ve been here and how things have gone?
SUE SEMRAU: Stockton has done a tremendous job. I didn’t know what the crowd would look like yesterday. We had three teams from the East Coast that were here. It was a tremendous crowd. There were people that came down from Sacramento, up from San Francisco, here in the local area. It was really impressive that we had that kind of atmosphere for an NCAA women’s game.
Q. The last time you guys played in 2015, looking back, I think you guys either, they didn’t lead — they barely led for I think the first 38 minutes and then took it right at the end but it seems like you guys don’t really talk about it as one that got away. Did you feel that way in the moment, or what were the emotions coming — thinking back on how that kind of went?
SUE SEMRAU: Yeah, we did feel like that. I remember it was; it was three possessions, and Tiffany Mitchell hitting that one in the corner that was a dagger for us. It was disappointing.
At the same time, there was a lot of growth in those young ladies and in our program as a result. You know, I don’t — I think it’s two really good programs, two elite programs, that get a chance to matchup here tomorrow night. A lot is on the line, but more importantly, these two programs and how solid they have become and the young women that are being produced from these programs, I think that’s what’s so important. A possession or two here or there, there’s a lot bigger things in life.
Q. A’Ja Wilson is one of those kind of impressive physical specimens when you look at her and then you watch her play. What’s kind of your thought on that matchup tomorrow, your front court?
SUE SEMRAU: Yeah, A’Ja is outstanding. Not only in her ability and her stature, but her work ethic. Her skill, her determination; she’s one of the most elite players to ever play college basketball.
And it doesn’t stop there. They have tremendous players and two of them have played in the ACC, with Kayla Davis and Allisha Gray, we have seen them for another of years and they are tremendous player. We recruited Tyasha Harris, tremendous guard.
I think you just go down the line and they have a tremendous lineup. And I like the matchups. It’s interesting that they are having to play a little bit differently now without Alaina Coates, but they are doing a great job with that. If you look at their postseason numbers, they are doing some great things.