NEW ORLEANS — LSU seniors Sylvia Fowles and Erica White had the benefit of opening the NCAA Tournament on their homecourt in Baton Rouge last weekend, and now the nearby comfort of playing just 80 miles east this weekend at New Orleans Arena.
But they have an extra motivation beyond those two Louisiana advantages: the prospect of finishing their college careers in their native Florida.
"It means a lot, especially for me and Erica," said Fowles, a 6-foot-6 All-America center from Miami. "Having a chance to go back down to Florida, to play in front of our real family, where things started, it'd be great."
White, a point guard from Jacksonville, played in Tampa last season and has played in Gainesville three times, but finishing in Florida would make her fourth Final Four all the more special.
"Being in Tampa would be great, just because our family can experience the Final Four," said White, whose career high of 22 points came against USF in Tampa in January 2007. "That's something we couldn't necessarily do in Indianapolis or Cleveland or Boston."
LSU and Florida State were the only teams in the tournament field with more than one Floridian on the roster. The challenge for the No. 2 seed Tigers is simply getting to Tampa. Before they can think about a potential region final with top seed and second-ranked North Carolina, the first obstacle is today against third seed Oklahoma State, which has a prolific scorer in 5-foot-5 guard Andrea Riley, averaging 23 points.
"You're talking about two of the quickest players in the country, one of the best defensive point guards and one of the best offensive point guards in the country," OSU coach Kurt Budke said. "I think that's a key matchup. People have trouble guarding Andrea one-on-one, I don't care how quick you are."
If the matchup on the court is half as entertaining as the banter in Friday's news conferences, it should be worth watching. Riley, in leading Oklahoma State to its first Sweet 16 since 1991, was asked about the significance of LSU having played in the last four Final Fours.
"I think experience is overrated," Riley said. "Any team can get beat on any night. & We're trying to get a win, and we're going to go out there with a lot of confidence. This is just another team we're playing. They're great, I'm not doubting that. You can't go out there being intimidated by the name."
White, who has 12 starts in NCAA Tournament play, took exception to the idea that her previous three seasons won't help her this weekend.
"I think experience is the best teacher," White said. "I'd like for that player to try to get to the Final Four a couple of times herself, then come back and tell me experience is overrated. I don't think you can speak on it unless you've been there."
The Tigers aren't hurting for confidence, as Fowles was plainly asked if she thought she was the best player in college basketball, an honor often bestowed upon Tennessee's Candace Parker.
"Yes," she said. "For me, I work so hard, and I consider myself being dominant on both ends of the floor."
Get to Tampa, and she might have a chance to prove that.
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] or