No. 24 Florida State women set sights on No. 3 Duke Thursday

Jan. 22, 2014 @ 08:37 PM

Natasha Howard has never beaten Duke.

The Florida State senior forward will be remembered as one of the most prolific players in school history who won NCAA tournament games and etched her name in the record books. But she wants to add a win against Duke to her resume.

The Blue Devils have won seven consecutive games against the Seminoles dating back to the 2008-09 season.

Howard gets one last regular season crack at No. 3 Duke when the 24th-ranked Seminoles (14-4, 2-3 ACC) host the Blue Devils on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN3.com).

“I would always remember that, my senior year, January 23rd, we beat Duke,” Howard said. “If we beat them.”

The end of Howard’s stellar career is nearing and the 6-foot-3 forward from Toledo, Ohio knows exactly what she wants — a deep tournament run and her name added to the display at the basketball training center that lists former Seminoles that have played professional ball. That was part of what sold Howard on Florida State. The distance from home didn’t bother her. The program felt like an extended family and coach Sue Semrau puts players in the pros.

“Jacinta Monroe, Coach Brooke (Wyckoff), I want to be just like them,” Howard said.

Howard set the school record for the most double-doubles this season, but her role changed dramatically in 2013-14. She led the team in rebounds and blocks the last two years, but had to add scoring-leader to the resume as one of two seniors on the team. Now she’s averaging 17.5 points — nearly five better than last season — 8.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

“She really has embraced that,” Semrau said. “She’s been willing to do all the little things. She was very solid in her role of getting 12-13 points and 10-11 rebounds. Now she’s understanding she has more of that load.

“She’s become much better with her feet. She’s become much better with her hands. She’s got great touch. She’s extended her range.”

Howard extended her vocal range also. The 2010 Ms. Basketball in Ohio was the highest ranked recruit Florida State has ever signed, but she doesn’t have a demanding personality. Howard was content to let her work ethic speak for her, but Semrau needed more with the current young team.

“She’s always been a leader by example,” Semrau said. “That part of it has not changed. She goes harder than anybody at practice.

“She’s really stepped up to be more of a vocal leader. It’s still not her comfort zone, but she’s been willing to step out of her comfort zone. Because of that her leadership has really grown.”

Teammates Meagan Conwright and Shakena Richardson have constantly urged Howard to speak her mind and, quite frankly, tell the team what to do.

“They been yelling at me,” Howard said with a smile.

The message must have gotten across as Florida State jumped out to a 14-1 start with two freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup. The team has lost three in a row against tougher Atlantic Coast Conference competition, including No. 7 North Carolina, with Duke up next. But 14-1 would have been impossible without the evolution of Howard.

“Great leadership. Tasha’s very vocal in practice,” freshman Ivey Slaughter said. “Just to know that we have a great player on the floor, and she’s a great person off the floor, someone anybody can go talk to and have a regular conversation.

“At first she was coming off where she had five seniors on the team and she was in the back. ... She really has grown, and I like that about Tash.”

The Blue Devils (18-1, 5-0) have NCAA championship aspirations and are led by Tricia Liston’s 17.2 points per game.

Florida State isn’t quite on that level and Semrau knows her young squad is still learning the ins and outs of NCAA basketball. Howard, however, has one thought on her mind.

“Any team can be beat, no matter what,” Howard said.