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Face time critical for Nicholson

Former Florida State linebacker A.J. Nicholson has a big chance at next week's combine in Indianapolis to impress the NFL.

Make no mistake, the meet-and-greets are critical for him.

Maybe even more so than his 40 time.

Nicholson, the Seminoles' leading tackler as a junior and senior, was sent home a day after arriving in South Florida for the Orange Bowl for a violation of an unspecified team rule and amid a sexual assault allegation. Seven weeks later, Hollywood police continue to investigate. No charges have been filed, and the state attorney's office in Broward County is not yet formally involved.

"There's a ton of footage for NFL people to evaluate, but the opportunity he missed was to be in front of NFL decisionmakers and coaches so they could look him in the eye and ask him what went on and get a better feel for him as a person," said Gary Wichard, Nicholson's agent. "He's going to get another bite at the apple."

Nicholson, 22, had been invited to the Senior Bowl, the marquee college all-star game, but wasn't asked to participate in wake of his off-the-field situation.

"The Senior Bowl backed off of him, which I thought was totally uncalled for; there was no reason for them to do that," said Wichard, adding that coach Bobby Bowden supported Nicholson being in Mobile, Ala., for the game.

MORE TEST-TAKERS: Along with Nicholson, former Seminoles invited to the NFL combine are former Chamberlain star Brodrick Bunkley, Antonio Cromartie, Matt Henshaw, Willie Reid, Ernie Sims, Leon Washington, Pat Watkins and Kamerion Wimbley.

PLAYING SMART: Junior guard Alicia Gladden has scored in double digits in a season-best seven straight games, and the reason is obvious: She's staying on the court longer.

"A lot of that had to do with foul trouble," Gladden said. "Coach (Sue Semrau) told me, "We really need you on the court.' It's just a matter of thinking."

She has cut down on how often she gambles to steal the ball, for example, and the refs are blowing their whistles in her direction fewer times. Her minutes and stats have gone up.

In the past seven games, she's averaging 15 points and 7.6 rebounds in nearly 32 minutes. In her previous 14, she averaged 13.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in about 28 minutes.

"We're a much better basketball team when she stays on the floor, obviously," Semrau said. "She's just so well-rounded at both ends of the floor. I think she's one of the top players in the conference. It's exciting to see her numbers reflect that."

That's especially true as the Seminoles (15-8, 6-4) head into the stretch run of the regular season. They host Miami on Friday, go to Clemson on Sunday and host Wake Forest on Feb. 23 and Boston College on Feb. 26.

FROM FINISH TO START: Junior right-hander Tyler Chambliss was FSU's closer last season and was merely one of the best around. He had 15 saves, which led the ACC and was fourth nationally, with a 2.06 ERA to earn All-America honors. This season he has moved into the starting rotation and, so far, has been one of the best.

He's 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, which included a strong six-inning performance in Saturday's 8-3 win at Auburn. Chambliss had only one previous collegiate start, and that came in 2004. He had 65 appearances in relief.

"He pitched a very smart (game)," said coach Mike Martin, whose Seminoles (4-1) prepare for a weekend series against visiting North Carolina-Asheville. "He got a lead and he made Auburn put the ball in play. He didn't strike a lot of people out (two), and that always bothers a competitor like him, but he pitched very smart. He gave us exactly what we needed. I was just very, very pleased he was able to do what he did."

BOUNCING BACK: Sophomore right-hander Tiffany McDonald, the lone experienced pitcher on the softball team, didn't look like an ace in the season-opening loss against Louisville. She allowed 12 runs on 12 hits and four walks in six innings.

"She had a rocky first game," coach JoAnne Graf said. "But Tiffany has really responded."

With freshman Kayla Collins out and freshman Melissa May trying to adjust to collegiate ball, McDonald has had to. She pitched in the next four games for FSU (4-1), picking up a save and three wins. In 18 innings, she has allowed one earned run on eight hits, nine walks and 23 strikeouts; that included a career-high 11 strikeouts against Georgia Southern on Tuesday, when she entered after May faced three batters.

"The other two (pitchers) will come around because we can't ride one pitcher the whole season," Graf said as her team faces South Carolina and Iowa State this weekend in the Seminole Classic. "They have to step up, and they're capable of doing that."

Brian Landman covers Florida State athletics. He can be reached at (813) 226-3347 or landman@spttmes.com.

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