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St. John's looking for a breakthrough against FSU

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State seniors Jacinta Monroe and Alysha Harvin have played in the regional semifinal round of the NCAA women's tournament before.

A chance awaits to go there again. Technically, it'll be for the first time.

Florida State (27-5) meets St. John's (25-6) on Monday night, with a spot in the Dayton Regional semifinals at stake. Both teams recorded double-digit wins in the first round, the third-seeded Seminoles pulling away late to beat pesky Louisiana Tech 75-61, and the sixth-seeded Red Storm using a dominant first half to get past Princeton 65-47.

"This team has so much more in us," said Florida State senior guard Angel Gray. "I think that we can go a lot further."

It's just the second meeting between the programs, the first since 1999. But there's more than enough tape for the teams to familiarize themselves with the other. They share six common opponents this season, each team going 4-2 in those games, many by roughly identical scores.

"They're just as similar as us, in that any night anybody can come out and contribute on the offensive end," St. John's forward Da'Shena Stevens said. "But I think it'll really be a defensive battle, who'll be able to stop the other team. They can score a lot of points. So can we."

If there's one edge for Florida State, it's having players who have been past this round.

The record books just no longer reflect that.

Monroe and Harvin played in the 2007 NCAA tournament for Florida State. Gray was on that team as well, but an ACL tear in her right knee kept her from the postseason.

That team pulled off two NCAA upsets, including a stunner at Stanford that counted as the program's shiniest moment. It no longer counts for anything, one of 22 wins the program was forced to vacate in the fallout of an academic cheating scandal that hit 14 Seminole teams, including football, where Bobby Bowden lost 12 victories off his legendary record.

So that tournament run never happened, at least in the NCAA's eyes.

"That's going to be in the back of our mind," Harvin said. "I mean, we're going to work hard regardless and try to get there. And when we do, it's going to be ours. And nobody's going to take that away from us."

Still, seeing a Sweet 16 banner that they earned get taken down, that's not something the Seminoles are talking much about now.

"I think the motivating factor is who their teammates are, how they're playing, what they want to do as a team and knowing that every game we want to get better," Florida State coach Sue Semrau said. "We don't really need to look anywhere else for motivation."

St. John's has never advanced past the second round of the NCAA tournament, either.

Then again, there haven't been many Red Storm teams like this one. Only three St. John's teams have won more than 25 games, the last of those seasons coming in 1982-83.

For the Red Storm, these are truly uncharted waters.

"Experience always helps," St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "You can never take that away. But with the group that I have, I tell you, they surprise me all the time. They're so naive that they don't even really understand, I think, the implications and what it's all about. They're just out here, 'OK, coach, we've got another basketball game. Let's go."'

Looking at those six common opponents doesn't suggest either team having an edge.

Both teams beat Florida, Virginia Tech and Stetson. Both lost to Connecticut, though neither got blown away by the powerful Huskies. Against North Carolina, Florida State prevailed and St. John's lost (oddly, both by 83-73 scores). And against DePaul, the Red Storm won by 17, while the Seminoles fell by 15.

"I look back at when they played DePaul, and they're a very different team," Barnes Arico said. "And we are an extremely different team than when we played Carolina. We have a lot of younger players that have grown throughout the season and have experienced life in the Big East, as I'm sure they have."