Swanier, Huskies ready to face Seminoles

STORRS, Conn. -- Connecticut freshman Ketia Swanier is finally taking control of the Huskies' offense.

And just in time, too.

Florida State, the rising program in the Atlantic Coast Conference, brings its fearless attitude into Gampel Pavilion on Tuesday night for a second-round NCAA game against the three-time defending national champs. The winner will advance to the regional semifinals in Kansas City.

"I think I got better just in my decision-making overall. Just being patient and playing within the offense," Swanier said.

The third-seeded Huskies and sixth-seeded Seminoles, both 24-7, had easy first-round wins over Dartmouth and Richmond, respectively.

Swanier directed coach Geno Auriemma's high-powered offense with the touch of a veteran Sunday against overmatched Dartmouth. She finished with seven assists and no turnovers, a stark contrast to the inconsistent rookie who hit the ground running -- quickly -- but didn't quite know where she was going.

"She seems a lot calmer and, at the same time, hasn't become paralyzed by the pressure," Auriemma said. "She's calm but aggressive."

A highly touted recruit out of Columbus, Ga., Swanier stepped into a backcourt once occupied by All-Americans Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Jennifer Rizzotti.

For most of the season, Auriemma penciled in a point-guard-by-committee, trying to find the winning formula. Swanier rotated in with fellow freshman Mel Thomas, sophomore guard Nicole Wolff and Ashley Valley, a senior.

But no one brings as much speed to the point as Swanier. And the Huskies, who struggled earlier this season, seem to be hitting their postseason stride.

Her teammates marvel at the change.

Barbara Turner pointed to a sequence against Dartmouth that underscored the growth. The Huskies were in their man-offense and coming downcourt on a fast break when Swanier held them up.

"She noticed (Dartmouth) was in a zone and she pulled it back out and called zone offense," Turner said. "You wouldn't have seen this from her a month and a half ago."

Swanier will be tested against the Seminoles, whose run to the tournament has been framed in tragedy and tenacity. The sudden death of 6-foot-5 post player Ronalda Pierce from a heart defect last summer has tightly bonded Sue Semrau's team.

In her eighth year Semrau, the ACC coach of the year, has built the Seminoles up from the conference cellar to a contender. They've gone the distance and then some, winning four of five overtime games, including three straight with a double OT win against conference champ North Carolina.

"The common denominator was having a different leading scorer in each of those three games," Semrau said. "We have a lot of balance. If one player is a little bit off, somebody steps up. There isn't a sense of fear in this team because they've been through so much."

The Seminoles also added a ready-made leader to the team in Roneeka Hodges. The 5-11 senior, a transfer from LSU, had just one year of eligibility left when she arrived at Tallahassee but quickly established her self. She leads the team with 18.9 points a game and 5.6 rebounds.

"What she's meant to the program is beyond the talent that she has and the athletic ability," Semrau said. "She's got work ethic, and she's got character and she's got leadership that she's really been able to instill in the younger players."