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March 18, 2010
BUFFALO, N.Y. - As he watched his team get settled into its locale in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Florida State associate head coach Stan Jones noticed some of his players were nearly overcome with the moment's excitement.
"Let's act like we've been here before," Jones told the Seminoles.
"Well," a player replied, "I haven't been here before."
That was last year, in Boise, Idaho, when FSU made its first trip to the Big Dance in 11 years. The player was Uche Echefu, now playing with Niigata Albirex in Japan.
As inexperienced teams are prone to do, the Seminoles opened up a 31-19 halftime lead on Wisconsin, only to see that advantage wither away into an eventual 61-59 overtime loss.
"I think last year we had control of the game throughout," sophomore Chris Singleton said. "It was just the last ten minutes we buckled under the pressure. It was a big stage for us. We had never been there. This year we all know what to do."
Now the Seminoles come into Buffalo, N.Y., no longer newcomers to the Tournament experience. Ryan Reid, the lone scholarship senior on roster, is FSU's only current player to play on a team that missed the field.
Making the tournament is one thing. Tonight, at 7:10 p.m., the No. 9 seed Seminoles (22-9) will look to defeat eighth-seeded Gonzaga (26-6) and win their first NCAA Tournament game since 1998.
"We made it to the tournament. It's a good achievement," Solomon Alabi said. "[We want to] get a win in this tournament and prove to the nation that we have a pretty good program going on at Florida State."
The nation already knows there's a pretty good program at Gonzaga. The Zags are participating in the NCAA Tournament for the 12th consecutive year - a run that includes four appearances in the Sweet 16.
The game figures to be a stylistic contrast. The Seminoles feature one of the nation's best defenses, and allow opponents to shoot just 37.4 percent from the field. The Zags, however, shoot 49.4 percent, good for sixth in the nation, and average 77.6 points per game.
And don't expect either team to change its approach tonight.
"I don't think we need to change our game," said Zags forward Elias Harris. "We need to stick to our game plan."
That game plan involves a quick-moving, transition-based offense that aims to keep Florida State from getting into its half-court defense.
"Teams that really get after it defensively, you have to play hard and execute, and definitely run," Gonzaga's Matt Bouldin said. "We need to keep running like we have been all season, so they don't get a chance to really get in their set [defenses]."
Junior guard Derwin Kitchen said that FSU hasn't seen anything out of Gonzaga that inspires the Seminoles to make any defensive changes.
"It's the same principles we've had all year," Kitchen said. "We haven't changed anything."
According to Michael Snaer, one of the few Seminoles making his postseason debut tonight, it's that defense that gives FSU its confidence heading into the game.
"With the type of 'D' we play, who can't we beat?" Snaer said. "We have one of the best defenses in the country, we feel. And numbers don't lie either."