To say Howard has a tall task when it faces No. 1 overall seed South Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament would be an understatement.
The Bison roll into the Round of 64 on a high after knocking off Incarnate Word Wednesday in the First Four for the program’s first-ever tournament win. The reality now sets in for Howard that it faces a Gamecocks team that is 29-2 and overwhelming favorites to win the national championship.
But for Brooklynn Fort-Davis and her Bison teammates, the intimidation factor will not be present when the team takes the floor Friday afternoon despite the reputation of the opponent on the other side.
“Honestly, it’s a mental game. We can’t play this game like we’re scared,” said Fort-Davis “Yes, they’re the No. 1 seed, but we have to play the game like they’re just any other team.”
Howard, which enters postseason play for the first time since 2001, will have to be a quick study of the Gamecocks. But coach Ty Grace assures her team will be prepared before tip-off to handle National Player of the Year candidate Aliyah Boston and a South Carolina team that has made three Final Four appearances in the last eight seasons.
“It is possible. You know, and like the players said, we try to teach them that,” said Grace. “There is a preparation process, and it doesn’t always happen in the timeline that you would like.”
The Bison, said Grace, will not require coaching up on confidence. They’re playing to win — to prove they belong on the same tournament stage as the other teams still alive in March.
“When I talk to them about approaching anybody who we feel like we’re not going to have an opportunity, we know what the opportunity is, it’s just to go out and play and compete,” she said. “I don’t think about No. 1 seeds. Obviously, that’s on paper. We know what this is. It’s not a question how great South Carolina is. I know how good they are.
Howard will certainly have respect for South Carolina. But fear? Reservation? No, said Grace.
“I also know that these kids want to play. They came to Howard to play and compete for championships,” she said. “They came to make the NCAA tournament. Now they’re here, so I don’t think there’s going to be fear there.”