AUBURN, Ala. -- Samford wasn't used to seeing big, powerful players like Florida State's Cierra Bravard, and it showed.
The 6-foot-4 Bravard had 23 points and 13 rebounds and the Seminoles used brawn and smothering defense in rolling to a 76-46 win over Samford on Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament."I think we played a couple players on some teams that if you put them together would be her size," Bulldogs coach Mike Morris said of Bravard. "It's just hard to simulate that in practice."And no easier to stop in games.Florida State (24-7) used its superior size and strength to easily make it through the tournament opener for the seventh straight year after advancing to the regional final last season."[The guards] were really focused on the team," Seminoles coach Sue Semrau said. "They didn't really care who gets the ball. They knew what side their bread was buttered on."Samford (25-8), the Southern Conference tournament champion, was also mostly denied its staple, the 3-pointer, in its first NCAA appearance."This does not take away anything we've accomplished this season," Morris said. "They're the best that Samford's ever had. And a lot of people got to see that this year."Courtney Ward, a native of nearby Montgomery, scored 13 points and hit three 3-pointers in the first half for the third-seeded Seminoles. Chelsea Davis also had 13 points in 13 minutes off the bench. Freshman Natasha Howard grabbed 10 rebounds to help Florida State forge a 52-23 advantage on the boards.Bravard was 9-of-14 shooting and helped put Samford post players Savannah Hill and J'Quita Babineaux in early foul trouble."My mindset was just kind of, 'Don't be denied,' " Bravard said.Added Ward: "Cierra is one of the best post players in the NCAA, and you can't miss her. If she's open, of course you're going to pass her the ball and she can pass it back out if not. We just kept passing it in and out to get what we could get."Emily London led Samford with 14 points, but was held in check most of the game by Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year Christian Hunnicutt. Hill, Samford's No. 2 scorer, finished 1 of 11 from the field for four points.The 14th-seeded Bulldogs came in ranked in the top five nationally in 3-point percentage, but scarcely got any good looks and went 5 of 19 from behind the arc."I thought our players came out really focused and used our length," Semrau said.London, whose 48 percent 3-point clip was second nationally, launched only one attempt in the first 35 minutes, and that came when Hunnicutt wasn't guarding her.The Seminoles controlled the game throughout, especially on defense, against a team that had won 13 of its last 14."It's definitely been a season to remember," said an emotional London, the school's top career and single-season scorer.Ward's off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Seminoles a 34-21 halftime lead. The Seminoles scored the first five points of the second half and didn't allow a field goal for nearly all of the opening five minutesThe Bulldogs hit just 5 of 25 shots in the first half and missed their first six in the second. They finished up shooting 26.9 percent and were forced into some awkward shots against Florida State's defenders."They were definitely a lot taller than we were," London said. "It was difficult getting the ball in there, and wherever you turned they would be there because their arms are so long. They did a really good job of getting us out of what we wanted to do."