Hayden-led Gators hold on for win

Published: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 12:22 a.m.

The positive, feel-good vibe enveloping the Florida women's basketball team keeps growing.

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Florida's Tara Taylor drives past South Carolina forward Larissa Kulcsar during Thursday's game at the O'Connell Center.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun

The Gators, feeding from the momentum of last Sunday's shocker at Georgia, returned home Thursday and escaped with a 61-56 win over South Carolina in the O'Connell Center.

Gamecocks guard Kelly Morrone missed a potential game-tying 3-point attempt with 5 seconds left, and Florida's Vanessa Hayden hit a pair of free throws with 2.2 seconds left to secure the win.

Florida improved to 13-5 and 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference, while the struggling Gamecocks (8-8, 0-4) lost their seventh straight overall and remained in last place in the conference.

"I think this team learned from the beginning of the season," Hayden said. "We're not going to beat everybody by 50 points, so we have to be tough and play hard all the time."

Florida overcame 23 turnovers, in part because of another dominating performance from Hayden. In just 29 minutes, Hayden had 28 points and 17 rebounds, including nine on the offensive glass.

Hayden moved into 13th place on Florida's all-time scoring chart and fifth place on the school's all-time rebounding list after surpassing 1,000 boards for her career.

South Carolina had no answer for her, as Hayden hit 9-of-18 shots and 10-of-14 from the free throw line.

"We had two or three players on her and she would turn around and score," South Carolina coach Susan Walvius said. "That's tough to defend."

South Carolina was led by Cristina Ciocan's 16 points and Iva Sliskovic's 14.

The Gamecocks had a chance to send the game into overtime because of a few shaky possessions by Florida down the stretch. Florida's final three offensive possessions included a turnover, missed shots by Tashia Morehead and Hayden and a Sarah Lowe air ball with 16 seconds left.

But a tough Florida defense kept the Gamecocks scoreless during the final 2:02.

"I think our team demonstrated a lot of maturity because they didn't lose their composure," Florida coach Carolyn Peck said. "That's extremely important."

Florida led by three with just under 30 seconds left, but Lowe threw an errant pass that was deflected out of bounds all the way under South Carolina's basket.

With 9 seconds on the shot clock and 22 remaining in the game, Florida had to go the length of the floor to get off a shot. It ended up being Lowe's air ball.

The Gamecocks rebounded and called a timeout to design a play for Morrone, the team's best 3-point shooter.

"We were down three, so we needed to take a 3," Walvius said. "We ran the play we wanted. We executed it well. Kelly Morrone is a money shooter for us, and she's the person we went to. She took a good shot, but it just didn't fall."

Sophomore Bernice Mosby had 11 points for the Gators while junior Tashia Morehead added 10. Aside from Hayden, Mosby and Morehead, no Gator scored more than four points.

Florida was coming off an 83-73 upset at then-No. 11 Georgia and will now have a week off to prepare for Thursday's home game against Alabama.

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