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Florida State Seminoles basketball team learning how to win close games

It's a stat that jumps off the page.

The Florida State men's basketball team entered Wednesday night's ACC game at Miami 7-0 in games decided by two possessions (six points or fewer). That's with essentially six newcomers in the rotation, seven if you count redshirt freshman C Solomon Alabi. In the previous three seasons, the Seminoles were a combined 14-15 in such games.

The latter helps explain three straight NIT berths. The former helps explain why, with 12 regular-season games left after Miami, the Seminoles are in position to receive their first NCAA bid since 1998.

"Our team seems to be growing and developing in the poise area," coach Leonard Hamilton said of his Seminoles pulling out a 76-73 overtime win Saturday against visiting Maryland.

But what makes this team different from recent others?

"A lot of it is this is an unusually confident bunch," Hamilton said. "They feel very confident in their ability. Plus they have good leadership in Uche (Echefu) and Toney Douglas. … Our newcomers have been willing to follow. It's hard to be a good leader when you don't have guys willing to follow. I think we've had good chemistry and when the game's on the line, they seem to come together more than anything else and really, really play within themselves."

Early projection: SI.com has come out with its first "bubble watch" and boldly predicts that FSU "Should Be In" the 65-team field, citing a strong RPI and strength of schedule.

If that holds and the women's team makes the NCAA Tournament for a fifth straight year, which seems likely with FSU back in the Top 25, both teams will be players in March Madness for the first time since 1991.

Unsung heroine: Sophomore PG Courtney Ward's improving play has been an under-the-radar key to the women's team's seven-game winning streak and No. 22 ranking.

"Courtney's continuing to grow," coach Sue Semrau said.

After starting the first seven games of the season, Ward was moved to a backup role for the next seven before regaining her spot in a Dec. 31 game against UCF and has been a fixture there since for the Seminoles (16-4, 4-0) entering Friday's game at Virginia.

"Courtney there frees up Mara (Freshour) to do more scoring (instead of playmaking), and the other thing that Courtney provides at that position is additional scoring," Semrau said.

In her most recent six starts, Ward is averaging 9.3 points on 43.2 percent shooting from the field, which includes three games in double figures. She's also averaging 5.3 assists in that span and is coming off a career-high nine in Sunday's win against Georgia Tech.

Getting a chance to shine: WR Greg Carr was a late addition to the Senior Bowl roster. The 6-foot-6 Carr had 39 catches for a team-high 542 yards and four touchdowns last season, and finished his career tied for second in school history in receiving touchdowns (29) and fifth in both receptions (148) and receiving yards (2,574).

National team duty: Soccer coach Mark Krikorian is in California assisting the U.S. women's national team as it prepares for the prestigious Algarve Cup.

"It's fun for me," Krikorian said.

On a professional and personal level.

U.S. coach Pia Sundhage was his assistant for two years when Krikorian was the coach of Philadelphia in the WUSA. "We're great friends," he said.

Off to a good start: Sophomore Teona Rodgers (Wharton High), an All-American and World Junior champion last year, ran a personal-best 8.36 seconds in the 60-meter hurdles at the first indoor meet of the year, last weekend's Hokie Invitational in Blacksburg, Va. That was good enough for third. Rodgers also was third in the 200-meter sprint (24.34 seconds).

One for the books: Men's swimming and diving team coach Neil Harper claimed win No. 200 when FSU beat Clemson on Saturday. Harper has been at FSU since 1999.

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

Florida State Seminoles basketball team learning how to win close games 01/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 8:03pm]

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