Gators surge past Tide

Published: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 12:11 a.m.

Scripting a defensive game plan against Florida this season has been elementary. Teams have sent two, three, sometimes four players at All-American center Vanessa Hayden.

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Florida's Tashia Morehead tries to get a rebound Thursday against Alabama.

CHRISTINA STUART/The Gainesville Sun

That, however, is looking more and more like a dangerous plan.

Hayden has a supporting cast. And they unloaded from the perimeter Thursday night against Alabama in the O'Connell Center.

The Gators' 76-69 win before a crowd of 1,133 was the product of some sharpshooting from junior forward Tashia Morehead and junior point guard Tishona Gregory. Morehead scored a game-high 19 points while Gregory had 14, including a pair of key baskets down the stretch.

The win was Florida's fourth in five games and moved the Gators to 14-5 and 4-2 in the Southeastern Conference. Alabama (10-9, 2-4), led by junior guard Monique Bivins' 19 points, lost for the fourth straight time. Florida also turned the ball over a mere three times.

"This win gives us confidence because we showed we're not a one-player team," Florida coach Carolyn Peck said. "There's 14 of us on the team."

It wasn't a terrible night for Hayden. She recorded her 13th double-double of the season with 14 points and 15 rebounds, but was only 4-of-12 from the field against double and triple teams.

Hayden recorded a career-high six assists by passing out of the collapsing defense. Florida hit nine 3-pointers, its most since it sank 11 at Richmond on Nov. 25.

"I knew they could hit from outside," Alabama coach Rick Moody said. "But you've got to pick your poison. I didn't think we had anyone who could guard Vanessa Hayden one-on-one without fouling out in the first half, so our guards had to drop down and help."

Hayden didn't score her first basket until there was 8:37 left in the first half. But by then, the Gators led 31-23, fueled by a hot-shooting Morehead, who hit 7-of-14 shots including three 3-pointers.

"I hit a couple shots in a row, and after that I was feeling it," Morehead said. "My teammates knew it and were looking for me."

Sophomore forward Bernice Mesabi also chipped in 13 points off the bench, but it was the play of Gregory down the stretch that helped the Gators secure the win.

Gregory hit three of Florida's final four field goals including a runner with 3:11 left and a 3-pointer with 1:25 left that put the Gators ahead 73-66 and sealed the victory.

"I don't think it was a matter of me alone finishing," Gregory said. "It was about this team buckling down and playing defense."

The Gators never trailed after the first two minutes of the game, but nearly wasted a 10-point halftime lead. The Crimson Tide, who have started very slowly in their past four games, roared back in the second half to tie the game at 49 with 12:11 left, but could never go ahead.

Alabama also got 15 points from junior guard Katie Pipe, who hit 5-of-9 3-point attempts and 12 points from freshman guard Kate Martin.

You can reach Brandon Zimmerman at 374-5051 or at zimmerb@gvillesun.com

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