Women's basketball: Florida State's Shakayla Thomas coming up big late in games
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State's Shakayla Thomas' play could be summed up by one phrase — "better late than never."
The senior forward posted double-doubles in her past two games for the eighth-ranked Seminoles, but most of it has come after halftime.
In an 81-79 victory at Wake Forest on Jan. 18, Thomas scored all but two of her 28 points in the second half and overtime. Three days later, she had eight of her 14 points in the final 20 minutes as the eighth-ranked Seminoles upset No. 4 Louisville 50-49.
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When it comes to why most of Thomas' production has come late, she would like to be the first to know.
"I don't know. Maybe it is because I'm more tuned in and aggressive," said Thomas, who is averaging 10.5 of her 18.5 points per game after halftime. "I think everyone wakes up in the second half. Either the team does or I feed off my teammates."
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Thomas, who is fifth in the conference in scoring at 18.5 points per game, is also averaging 21 points and 8.3 rebounds over the past three games. After a big win at Louisville, the Seminoles (18-2, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) face another big test on Sunday when they host fifth-ranked Notre Dame (19-2, 7-1).
Even though the numbers might say Thomas is playing her best basketball of the season, she refuses to say that.
"Have you seen those first-half points? The best is going to come out at some point and then everyone is going to be in total shock," she said.
Coach Sue Semrau, who knows Thomas' game as well as anyone, says even scouting Thomas in high school in Sylacauga, Alabama, she would hold back until it was absolutely necessary in order to get teammates involved.
For the first three years of Thomas' collegiate career, that has worked out pretty well. She was the ACC's Sixth Player of the Year in 2015 and '16 before being the coaches selection as Player of the Year last season.
With the Seminoles though trying to reach their first Women's Final Four after three straight Sweet 16 appearances and spots in the Elite Eight two of the last three years, Semrau is trying to get more out of her top player.
"That mentality has to be to dominate every possession. When she does that she is one of the best players in the country," Semrau said. "Sometimes she needs to be reminded how good she is. We're not going to put up with her being average."
At a school known for football, it will be a big basketball weekend at Florida State. Saturday's men's game against in-state rival Miami is sold out and Semrau is hoping that Sunday's game will attract a record crowd.
The game also has big stakes for the conference race. Both teams have one conference loss along with Louisville and Virginia.
"Thomas is really a tremendous athlete. She's very physical and strong. We are going to have to double her," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "Florida State is a very veteran team that has a good inside-outside presence. Rebounding is going to be key. We've been a good rebounding team but we have to be a great one against them."
The Seminoles though have never defeated the Irish in six previous meetings. Notre Dame has won by an average of 15.2 points.
"This is all or nothing at this point as a senior. We have to leave here with a win over Notre Dame," Thomas said.