Gators clinch SEC opener


Published: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Trailing in the second half is becoming a common experience for Florida's women's basketball team this season. So is coming back and winning.
When the Gators went into halftime facing a 28-19 deficit during their Southeastern Conference opener against Alabama Thursday night there was no concern, no yelling from coaches and no panic. They had been there before.
The Gators used their fortitude to come from behind once again, pulling away from the Tide in the second half for a 59-44 win in the O'Connell Center.
It marked the seventh time this season Florida (13-1, 1-0 SEC) has come back from a second-half deficit to win, six of which have come during the Gators' current 11-game winning streak.
"This team has a never-say-die attitude," coach Carolyn Peck said. "If there's time on the clock, they believe they can win."
It was the Gators' full-court press that eventually wore down a thin Alabama (6-8, 0-1) roster. Florida senior Brittany Davis led all scorers with 16 points, freshman Sha Brooks added 14 while senior Dalila Eshe posted her third career double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds.
Eshe pulled down 10 of her rebounds in the second half to help the Gators outscore Alabama 40-16 after the break. Eshe said there no was no panic in the locker room at halftime following an ugly Florida first half in which the Gators were outrebounded 25-16.
"She was calm and collected," Eshe said of Peck. "That helped us stay calm."
The Gators appeared the fresher team down the stretch, holding the Tide to just four points over the final 10 minutes. Alabama, which used only seven players, was led by guard Marverly Nettles' 12 points while forward Dee Merriweather chipped in eight points and 14 rebounds.
"We are very short in our roster," first-year Tide coach Stephany Smith said. "We didn't have the legs to finish the game."
It was Florida reserve guard Kim Dye who swung the momentum of the game. Dye gave Florida its first lead since 2-0 when she buried back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the second half. Dye's 3-pointers, coming with 10:58 and 10:18 remaining, gave the Gators a 41-36 lead. They never trailed again.
Dye said she was told by her coaches at halftime she wasn't being aggressive enough.
"In the first half I got in trouble for not shooting," Dye said. "I need to know my role on the team. I have to come off the bench and knock those shots down."
She did. And Florida's poor first half was quickly forgotten. Peck said afterward her team has fallen behind this season after not coming out aggressive enough to open games.
"A lot of times we're digging ourselves holes by turning the ball over," Peck said. "Part of us getting down is our opponents defense and us being passive. Sometimes it takes us a half to be aggressive.
"If we can be aggressive to start with we'll put ourselves in position where we don't have to come from behind."
The game marked the end of Florida's record eight-game homestand. The Gators will next travel to No. 17 Georgia Sunday.
You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or by e-mail at zimmerb@gvillesun.com.

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