Florida State women's basketball coach Sue Semrau hasn't held up the perennial powers of the ACC as measuring sticks for her team's growth over the years.
"We want to be a top 10 program and we don't look around and compare ourselves to other programs," she said. "We just look at what we need to do to be a top 10 program."
By any gauge, her team is getting closer to that height.
FSU, ranked No. 12 in the latest Assoticated Press poll, has earned a share of the ACC regular-season title, along with Maryland, in large part because it beat Duke and North Carolina. The Seminoles enter this week's ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C., seeded second (they had never been better than fourth) and will meet the Boston College-Miami winner in Friday's quarterfinals.
"They're a great, great team," said coach Sylvia Hatchell, whose No. 4-seeded Tar Heels are the four-time defending tournament champs. "Without a doubt, they're one of the top 10 teams in the country."
Maryland coach Brenda Frese said one of the big differences is how physical the Seminoles are, which helps explain their stellar defensive play, but also noted the problems FSU's balanced attack have caused.
Junior F Jacinta Monroe leads FSU in scoring (13.5 points) and is closely followed by senior guards Tanae Davis-Cain (12.7) and Mara Freshour (10.4) as well as freshman C Cierra Bravard (9.7), sophomore G Courtney Ward (7.4) and junior G/F Alysha Harvin (7.3). Junior G Angel Gray isn't known as a scorer (4.5) but had a career-high 14 in the 77-70 win against UNC.
"You feel like you have to stop everybody because they're so solid across the board," said Frese, whose No. 4 Terrapins needed a buzzer-beating 3 to beat FSU 72-71. "That's what makes their team so special this year, is that they're truly a team and they're so unselfish in their play."
It has shown. Although the Seminoles (24-6, 12-2 ACC) benefited from the schedule makers, drawing Duke, UNC and Maryland at home, they were 10-0 in road games (2-3 on neutral floors) and 8-4 in games decided by no more than seven points.
"This is a team and a program that has learned to push through adversity, from the 2004 year until now," Semrau said, referencing the death of Ronalda Pierce in the summer of '04. "There have been hurdles that this group of individuals and the program as a whole had to say, 'We are not going to allow a tough situation to get the best of us.' This year, you've seen the fruit of that."
A late-season push: Freshman F/C Xavier Gibson hadn't been playing many minutes, but he may be carving out a role for himself at the most opportune time. In six minutes last weekend against Clemson, he was 3-for-3 from the field for six points, more than he had scored in his previous eight games combined.
"The thing that impresses me about Xavier is that he's worked very hard; he's had a positive attitude the entire year," coach Leonard Hamilton said. "He's learning, he's eager to learn, and I think his future's bright."
Fame time for Prime Time? Former star CB Deion Sanders is among the 76 Division I-A players on the ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2009. Others include WR Tim Brown (Notre Dame), RB Eric Dickerson (SMU), WR Kirk Gibson (Michigan State), WR Desmond Howard (Michigan), DT Russell Maryland (Miami), DB Jake Scott (Georgia), WR Sterling Sharpe (South Carolina), LB Lawrence Taylor (North Carolina), LB Pat Tillman (Arizona State) and QB Gino Torretta (Miami). The class will be announced April 30, inducted Dec. 8 and enshrined in the hall in South Bend, Ind., in the summer of 2010.
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.