Baylor a mighty test for Seminoles
FSU's Toles overcame concussions, elbow injury on way to the NCAA tournament
WACO, Texas -- There's a certain realism you need to have when playing Baylor, and Florida State has it. The No. 8 seed Seminoles were excited to be back in the Big Dance after missing it last season after seven consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
But seeing the name Baylor in your corner of the bracket is, of course, sobering. Only one team, Stanford, has beaten the defending national champion in its past 43 games. That should be more than enough to worry the Seminoles before their second-round game Tuesday against the top-seeded Lady Bears (9:35 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
However, also consider that Baylor hasn't been stopped short of the Sweet 16 since 2008, when Pitt beat the Lady Bears in the second round. Baylor's NCAA finishes since: regional semis, Final Four, Elite Eight, NCAA title.
Add in Baylor playing at the Ferrell Center in the last home game for superstar Brittney Griner and her fellow seniors. If you're the Seminoles, you know it would take an epic upset to pull this off.
Florida State coach Sue Semrau can look to the Sunshine State success on the men's side -- led by giant killer Florida Gulf Coast. But the truth is, there is no team in the men's tournament as dominant a favorite to make the Final Four as Baylor is on the women's side.
So the Seminoles shouldn't spend much energy thinking about the difficulty of what they face. Instead, they need to focus on the positives of their season. None is bigger than the triumphant final chapter of Morgan Toles' career.
The 5-foot-9 senior point guard is playing in her first, and last, NCAA tournament. Just being here really matters.
Toles was a highly regarded high school player out of Fayetteville, Ga., who began her college career at Auburn. She was a starter for two seasons for the Tigers, averaging 7.6 points and 4.4 assists as a freshman and 8.6 and 5.1 as a sophomore. But after her second season, Auburn's doctors -- concerned about three concussions she had had dating to high school -- did not clear her to continue playing.
She began to look into transferring that summer of 2011, after getting other opinions from neurologists.
"Concussions are a scary thing," Toles said, "but I knew I was fine."
Still, she kept meeting resistance from other schools. Toles began to lose hope about getting another chance to play. Then Semrau called.
"I told her, 'You're probably not going to want to take me; no one else has,'" Toles said. "But she said, 'Come on in, we'll test you ourselves.' And I passed every test."
So Toles went to Florida State. But by the time all the NCAA bureaucratic hurdles had been cleared, the Seminoles were into the second half of the 2011-12 season. Toles could have redshirted and had two more seasons to play.
But Florida State needed a point guard, and she was eager to get back into action.
"I was watching, and I knew I could contribute," Toles said. "We had talent, but people were just in the wrong places. Great shooters were bringing the ball up the court. I just wanted to help as soon as possible."
Then, she played just four games before an elbow injury ended her 2011-12 season.
"At first, I thought it was a waste of a year," Toles said. "But then I really looked at it and thought about it. I think it made me all the more eager to get ready for the next season. I'm just thankful to be here, honestly."
Toles knows playing professionally probably isn't an option, so she is giving everything to her last college season.
She is averaging 5.4 points this season and has 126 assists to 53 turnovers. Florida State finished tied for fourth in the ACC with Miami, but it beat the Hurricanes in all three meetings. In Sunday's 60-44 NCAA first-round victory over Princeton, Toles had 12 points, 4 assists and 5 rebounds.
"She is an amazing young lady," Semrau said. "For her and her parents to have the courage to seek out lots of different opinions and opportunities for her to play for them, I'm extremely excited about this win. And for Florida State, I'm excited she's here."
Toles hopes to join the coaching ranks when she's finished with college. She recognized how much she loves basketball from a strategic perspective while she was sidelined.
"I know I took the game for granted before," Toles said. "But I learned from it. I approached practices and games differently after sitting out."
And if Tuesday night's contest is her last as a college player, she is taking a bright-side approach to that, too.
"It's an honor to play the very best team; you see who you really are when playing against the best," Toles said. "It's going to be a tough environment, but we're looking forward to it. It's a chance to do something big."
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