Young Gators taught another difficult lesson
Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
Sure, the Florida women's basketball team was in the O'Connell Center playing in front of 1,347 of their fans Tuesday, but the Gators still found themselves in unfamiliar territory.
A young Florida squad played its first game decided by less than eight points this season, and couldn't hold off Temple and senior forward Kamesha Hairston in the final minutes of regulation to eventually fall 85-80 in overtime.
"It's an experience this team hasn't been in before," Florida coach Carolyn Peck said. "We've got two freshmen running the point."
In what was looking like its best performance of the season, Florida held a 66-56 lead with just four minutes to go. Temple, however, finished regulation on a 14-4 run to send the game into the extra period tied 70-all.
Temple went up by as much as 78-72 in the OT, but Florida (6-9) called a timeout, regrouped, and made it 78-76 with 2:27 remaining. The Gators remained one possession away until senior guard Kim Dye missed an open 3-pointer with 1:18 left that could have tied the game at 81. Two free throws at the other end by Hairston and another with 14 seconds left put the game out of reach.
Hairston, who scored 20 points in the second half and overtime, finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds and six steals, but in the end it was the Gators' lack of experience and height that turned the game in Temple's favor.
As Peck explained, "rebounds and turnovers were the name of the game" as she watched her team turn the ball over 25 times while allowing 25 offensive rebounds.
"I turned the ball over eight times," sophomore guard Sha Brooks said, who led the team in giveaways. "That's unacceptable."
It didn't help that the team had no answer for Hairston and her smooth mid-range jumper.
"You're not going to shut her down," Peck said of Hairston, who scored 24 against Florida last year. "We just didn't want uncontested shots, but she did a great job of finding open gaps in our zone."
Florida was in control of the game following an early 25-6 run and went into halftime with a 32-24 lead.
Hairston, however, continuously carried the rest of her sleeping team as they shot 4-of-25 (16 percent) in the half.
"I don't think they (the rest of her team) knew the importance of the game," Hairston said. "We've lost every year to them."
Florida lost despite a couple of standout performances. Brooks led the team with 26 points, one shy of her career-best, notching her ninth straight game in double-figures. Junior guard Depree Bowden scored a career-best 25.
The Gators shot just a shade under their season-best from the field (46.1 percent), and finished with season-bests from beyond the arc (58.3 percent) and from the free throw line (100 percent).
Peck, nonetheless, sees something to gain from a hard-fought defeat against a tough opponent. Her team will need it as they begin conference play Thursday night at No. 11 Georgia.
"I think we'll continue to learn," Peck said. "This team has no fear and that's the number one thing about playing in the SEC."
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