Saturday’s matchup could be a typical, intriguing 12-seed versus 5-seed contest for the Middle Tennessee Lady Raiders.
A game against No. 5 seed Florida State in College Station, Texas, and a chance to show why MTSU won the C-USA title, is at stake.
Both teams have similar styles, but the Lady Raiders provide themselves as an interesting opponent given how well they mix both their inside game, and great guard play on the perimeter.
The Seminoles also have a strong inside presence, having their top-three scorers averaging over 10 points per game, with two solid rebounders in Shakayla Thomas and Adut Bulgat.
Bulgat leads the team with over seven rebounds per game, and Thomas is a legitimate shot maker, averaging over 55 percent from the field on the year and 17 points per game.
“I’d say the Ty [Petty] and [Leticia] Romero matchup is pretty tough. The Thomas kid coming off the bench is a good player,” MTSU head coach Rick Insell said. “We’re looking at Gabby [Lyon] right now. If Gabby can take care of that, Ty can take care of Romero, then we’re going to gamble on some of the other kids.”
FSU’s Leticia Romero, who was also a member of the Spanish national team in the 2014 FIBA World Championship, has been deadly this season from three.
She is shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc, and averaging 11 points per game. Romero’s most effective area has been at the free throw line, shooting 85 percent on the year.
MTSU’s Ty Petty is expected to defend Romero, making for an intriguing matchup on the perimeter.
“I know they’re probably bigger than us,” Petty said after practice Tuesday. “That’s how it’s been all season. But we’re going to play team defense. It’s not about focusing on one person, but playing team defense and communicating.”
A potential difference maker for the Lady Raiders in Saturday’s contest is how to find senior guard Brea Edwards open looks.
Edwards, in her last season in an MTSU uniform, is averaging a team and career high 17.9 points per game.
Her ability to rebound on the offensive and defensive glass may also play a vital role if the Lady Raiders want to secure an upset in College Station.
“That’s the great thing about Brea. Brea knows how to move without the ball,” Petty said. “I think she’ll be able to get open, because that’s one of her perks.”
According to Petty, a focus of MTSU will be getting C-USA Freshman of the Year Alex Johnson involved inside, as well as other forwards such as Gabby Lyon and TiAnna Porter.
“It starts with our post, and you know we have a great post presence,” Petty said. “They come in the game from tip off and go hard, that’s what opens our guards up.”
Rebounding has also been a focus for Insell and the Lady Raiders during practice, an area where the Seminoles show strength.
“I’m very much concerned about the rebounding. We have to do what we did the other night,” Insell said. “Old Dominion was a lot bigger than us, taller than us and stronger than us. Our kids just reached out and went in there and took it. We’re going to have to take that tenacity with us. We’re going to have to go to the boards with some authority.”
Regardless of seedings or size mismatches, Insell expects a fundamental Lady Raiders team to arrive in College Station.
“In our case, we can’t go out there and run and jump with them. If we do, we’re going to get beat,” Insell said. “We have to go out there, overextend, widen our base, explode through them and hit our free throws. That’s what we’re banking on.”
MTSU and Florida State square off on ESPN2 on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. CT.
To contact Sports Editor Connor Grott, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Connor_Grott.