TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State coach Sue Semrau loves Ohio, and with good reason. She's gotten some of her best players out of the Buckeye state over the past dozen years.
The latest, Cierra Bravard, is a big reason the No. 3 seed Seminoles (28-5) are headed to Dayton on Sunday for the round of 16 in the NCAA women's tournament. Florida State plays Mississippi State, a No. 7 seed that advanced with an 87-67 upset win over a No. 2 Seed, Ohio State.
In Florida State's 66-65 overtime win over St. John's on Monday, Bravard delivered three clutch baskets. A pair of unanswered layups by the sturdy sophomore from Sandusky gave the Seminoles a 55-53 lead with just over six minutes left while her jumper two minutes into the overtime gave Florida State a 64-62 lead.
"She is a scoring presence down low for us and has become a good defensive rebounder," Semrau said. "And she has a knack on the offensive boards on the weak side. Those things really complement what we get from our other players on the interior."
At 6-foot-4, Bravard sometimes spells Florida State's 6-5 shot-blocking specialist Jacinta Monroe or joins her in a double-post alignment.
"My role kind of changes every game," Bravard said. "If we're struggling from the perimeter they might need me to do a little more damage on the inside and if we're playing against a better team that has a better post presence, my defense might be what they need."
In two seasons as a part-time starter, Bravard has averaged 8.4 points and 4.7 rebounds and nearly one blocked shot a game as the Seminoles (28-5) have shared successive Atlantic Coast Conference regular season titles. Florida State is 54-13 in Bravard's two years, with two of the losses coming against top-ranked and defending national champion Connecticut.
Semrau, meanwhile, has continued to mine for talent in Ohio's prep ranks, signing two more top prospects this year. They include Ms. Ohio Basketball, Natasha Howard of Toledo, and Tay'ler Mingo, a point guard from Regina High School in South Euclid.
"It started with Brooke Wyckoff," said Semrau, who landed the former West Chester, Ohio prep star in her first year as Florida State's coach in 1997. "We've had a lot of success up there, built some relationships. And people have had positive experiences down here."
Wyckoff finished her Florida State career in 2001 as a first-team pick on the Atlantic Coast Conference team and ranks 10th on the school's all-time scoring list.
Bravard is tickled that more Ohioans have chosen to head to the South.
"I'll have a couple of buddies to ride home with," said Bravard, who played once against Howard in high school.
A sociology major, Bravard chose Florida State largely on an instinct that it was where she needed to be.
"I felt like I would get more than just being a basketball player being here," she said. "I'm far away from home and really far away from my family. This is my family now."
But Bravard is excited about the chance to play closer to her hometown this weekend so her mother, sisters and high school friends and teammates can watch her and the Seminoles try and advance deeper into the NCAA tournament.
"This is a blessing," said Bravard, who scored 1,966 points during her prep career at Sandusky's Perkins High School. "To go back home and play."