Gators set their minds to protecting late leads

In all four losses this season Florida has let second-half leads slip.


Published: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 2:13 a.m.
Florida All-American center Vanessa Hayden sat in Florida's basketball complex Friday afternoon tying her sneakers following a frustrating loss at Ole Miss the night before.
Hayden has been an anchor on a young and inexperienced - but improved - team. Even with Hayden's leadership, though, growing pains are sometimes evident.
"I think we're still a little bit young and inexperienced and we're still learning," Hayden said. "And we need to learn that we need to capitalize off our leads. In the four games that we lost we were in them, but still lost. A lot of that has to do with inexperience."
In all four Florida losses this season the Gators (10-4) have let second-half leads slip away. The latest came Thursday night when Florida led 66-62 with under six minutes remaining before turning the ball over on its next five possessions and losing 77-72.
"During crunch time we didn't man-up," Hayden said. "We need to hunker down and say, 'Let's go do this.' We were up by four points with six minutes to go and we turn the ball over five straight times. We've got to learn patience and how to slow down. We have a lot to learn from that. We should have won that game, hands down."
In order to beat No. 22 Vanderbilt today at 3 p.m. in the O'Connell Center, the Gators know they will have to protect a late lead. It's all part of the learning process of a team with seven underclassmen.
But a look at Florida's losses this season shows how close the Gators are to being perfect. In a 98-88 defeat at Richmond Nov. 25, Florida led with under nine minutes left. At Miami on Dec. 12, Florida had a two-point lead with under three minutes remaining. In a 71-54 home loss to Baylor on Dec. 30 the Gators led both at halftime and with under 15 minutes remaining.
Against the Rebels, the Gators seemed in control with a four-point lead at the six-minute mark. Yet the Rebels stormed back, aided by poor decision-making from the Gators guards.
"I think turnover-wise, we have to maintain our composure," sophomore Bernice Mosby said. "(Against Ole Miss), we lost our composure."
The Gators did plenty of positive things against Ole Miss, outrebounding the Rebels and shooting well from the floor. But Florida kept the Rebels in it by committing 24 turnovers.
"We're going to try to go back and look and find out where the turnovers occurred," coach Carolyn Peck said. "One thing about our team, our guards who are handling the ball are relatively young."
But the Gators' turnover problems at Ole Miss were uncharacteristic. Florida has taken care of the ball most of the season.
Junior point guard Tishona Gregory and sophomore point guard Sarah Lowe have combined for 98 assists to 58 turnovers, helping Florida rank fifth in the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio.
"We're going to go out in practice and work on it so Sunday against Vanderbilt it won't happen," Hayden said.
If Florida can learn from the mistakes made against the Rebels, it can begin raking in the wins that never came last year.
"Last year we started out (the SEC season) 0-1 and then went 1-13," Hayden said. "We don't want to be 1-13 again. That puts fire in our bellies."

Gameday

  • WHO: No. 22 Vanderbilt (13-1, 1-0 SEC) at Florida (10-4, 0-1).
  • WHEN: Today, 3 p.m.
  • WHERE: O'Connell Center.
  • ON AIR: AM-850. FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP Pos. Player Ht. Yr. PPG RPG G Tishona Gregory 5-5 Jr. 6.2 2.1 G Danielle Santos 5-10 So. 8.6 3.8 F Tashia Morehead 5-11 Jr. 11.2 4.6 F Brittany Davis 6-2 So. 3.3 4.2 C Vanessa Hayden 6-4 Sr. 20.1 11.7 VANDERBILT PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP
    Pos. Player Ht. Yr. PPG RPG
    G Cherish Stringfield 5-7 Fr. 4.8 2.3 G Abi Ramsey 5-10 Jr. 15.4 4.6 G Hillary Hager 5-11 Sr. 11.1 5.1 F Ashley Earley 5-10 Jr. 13.5 8.1 F Carla Thomas 6-3 Fr. 5.1 2.4
  • NOTES: Florida lost its last meeting with Vanderbilt 74-58 in the SEC Tournament's first round last year. . . . The Gators have lost their last two SEC home openers and are 11-10 overall. . . . Florida beat its only other top-25 opponent this season in a 75-49 upset of Cal-Santa Barbara earlier this year. . . . Florida All-American Vanessa Hayden leads the SEC in rebounding and blocked shots. . . . Florida forward Brittany Davis is coming off a career-high 16 points Thursday at Ole Miss.
    -Brandon Zimmerman
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