High five: NCAA women's bracket has distinct Florida flavor
IT has been a season of firsts for women's college basketball teams Florida, and the roll will continue in the NCAA Tournament.
When the field of 64 was announced on Monday, it marked the first time that five teams from the Sunshine State were selected.
Florida State, Florida and Miami - who are five seeds - have combined for 41 appearances, but this is the first year all three are in the tournament at the same time. South Florida, a six seed, has made the field two of the past three seasons and No. 16 seed Jacksonville is making its debut after winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament.
''It's kind of neat. I think this shines a really bright light on our state and the level of basketball we're playing down here,'' Florida coach Amanda Butler said.
Florida State coach Sue Semrau added that the development is also due to ''the high school coaches and club teams in this state have made it important enough in what many people would say is a football state.''
Five teams making the field started to look like a possibility in mid-January when four were ranked in the Top 25, and that was the first time that had happened for Florida teams. Florida State and South Florida have been ranked all season and were eventually joined by Miami and the Gators.
Miami coach Katie Meier routinely talks about the mutual respect between the programs and how they are often recruiting the same players. It should be no surprise then that all of them have similar traits.
The programs had experienced rosters this season and have had great guard play.
South Florida senior Courtney Williams led the American Athletic Conference in scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game, and Miami junior Adrienne Motley (15.6) was fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Jacksonville junior Sherranda Reddick (12.4) was a first-team pick in the Atlantic Sun. Florida junior Ronni Williams lead the team in scoring (11.1) and rebounding (7.9).
Florida State is getting in down in the frontcourt as the Seminoles leading scorers - sophomore Shakayla Thomas (17.1) and senior Adut Bulgak 12.7 - are forwards.
The Seminoles (23-7) reached the Elite Eight last season and had hopes of hosting the first two rounds. They had an 11-game win streak in mid-February and were ranked 10th but dropped three of its last five to and being the tournament on the road. The Seminoles, who are in the Dallas Region, open Saturday against Middle Tennessee State in College Station, Texas.
''We would have loved to play here but we've been a historically good road team,'' Semrau said. ''It's going to be tough but a great environment.''
Meier thought that Miami's 74-56 win over Florida State in the ACC Quarterfinals might have had a role in the Hurricanes (24-8) moving up a spot. They will meet South Dakota State on Saturday at Stanford, California, in a Lexington Region matchup.
''We kind of had an amazing season that was under the radar nationally. Our performance in the conference tournament really opened some eyes,'' she said.
Florida (22-8) and Jacksonville (22-10) are both in the Sioux Falls region and will play on Friday. The Gators will face Albany in Syracuse, New York, and the Dolphins meet top-seeded South Carolina in Columbia.
''The past couple days have been great,'' Jacksonville coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said. ''For sure, this will be the biggest challenge our team and me as a coach have faced. But I look forward to it.''
South Florida (23-8) also opens play on Friday against Colorado State in Los Angeles. USF coach Jose Fernandez expected the seeding but he was surprised to be in the same region as Connecticut. If both teams get to the Elite Eight, it would be their fourth meeting of the season.
''To be honest last two years we've played UConn more than anyone in the country and better. To put us in the same region was unexpected,'' he said.