No. 19 Gators rebound against Gamecocks

Published: Friday, January 16, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 16, 2009 at 12:14 a.m.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Florida coach Amanda Butler really likes her team this year. And what’s not to love as her No. 19 Gators (16-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) are off to their best start since 2001 and look poised to compete for the SEC title after beating South Carolina 77-63 on Thursday night.

Butler challenged her defense after Auburn shot better than 56 percent from the field and Florida forced just 11 turnovers in a loss that broke the Gators school record 15-game winning streak. They responded with an overwhelming press that got 14 steals from the Gamecocks and picked up 24 Gamecocks turnovers.

“That’s Florida basketball — tough stingy defense, whether its full-court or half-court that turns them over or gets a team to take a quick shot, a shot they don’t want,” Butler said.

On offense, seniors Sha Brooks and Marshae Dotson led the way — Brooks with 25 points, sinking all nine of her free throws, and Dotson adding 19 points, making all eight of her shots from the field.

“I’m especially proud of these two guys tonight. They played like seniors. Their experience really shone through. They hit shots and made plays,” Butler said.

Brooks and Dotson hung around two years ago after Butler was hired by her alma mater from Charlotte to turn around a program with a decent history — nine NCAA tournaments in 10 years starting in 1993 — but had fallen on hard times with just two NCAAs in the past six years. Florida won 10 more games last season than the one before, landing in the WNIT. The goals are bigger this year, and Brooks said the determination showed before the season even started.

“We’ve worked hard all season. We deserve every win we get because we go out there and work hard for 40 minutes,” Brooks said.

The Gators trailed 16-13 with just over 9 minutes to go in the first half, but finished with a 22-9 run, thanks to its pressing defense. South Carolina made just four of its last 13 shots in the half, and turned the ball over eight times in the final 9 minutes of the half.

Florida slowly stretched its lead out over the second half, at one point scoring on seven straight possessions to take a 65-44 lead with just under eight minutes to go. Brooks, who tied a school record starting in her 109th consecutive game, scored eight points during the run.

The Gators shot 45.8 percent from the field. They have shot better than 40 percent in all but one game this season.

Brionna Dickerson had 20 points and seven rebounds, while Demetress Adams added 10 points and nine rebounds for South Carolina.

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said her team was overwhelmed with Florida’s press.

“They just disrupted us all night long. I don’t think we handled the pressure well,” Staley said. “I believe we knew it was coming, we just didn’t handle it well,”

Staley said she made sure her young squad didn’t quit, and the Gamecocks cut the Gators lead to 68-59 with 54.8 seconds to go, thanks to Florida’s sloppy play and missed free throws. But the comeback didn’t have enough time.

“I’m quite sure if they could have packed it in, they would have packed it in,” Staley said of her team. “We just try to extend the game and make our players play 40 minutes.”

South Carolina hasn’t beaten a ranked SEC opponent in nearly six years. The Gamecocks get another chance Sunday against No. 13 Tennessee, but they have beaten the Lady Vols just once in 38 tries, back in 1980.

“It’s life in the SEC,” said Staley, who came to South Carolina this season from Temple.

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