UF women's hoops gets big win vs. No. 18 Bulldogs

Published: Sunday, February 19, 2012 at 11:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 19, 2012 at 11:41 p.m.

Florida coach Amanda Butler confided that she asked for a little help before Florida's big game with arch-rival Georgia Sunday.

“I'll be honest with you guys,” Butler said. “What my prayer was before the game was that they (Gators) get what they deserve, and that is absolutely what happened today.”

Senior guard Lanita Bartley and junior forward Jennifer George combined to score UF's last 12 points of the game, and the Gators, urged on by an enthusiastic, season-high crowd of 3,049, celebrated Senior Day in style with a thrilling 61-57 upset win over the 18th-ranked Bulldogs in the O'Connell Center.

The victory, UF's second this season over a ranked opponent (FSU), improved the Gators to 17-10, 7-7 with two regular-season contests remaining while ending a four-game winning streak for Georgia, which came into the game still very much alive for the SEC regular-season title but fell to 20-7, 9-5.

For a Gator team squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble and coming off a heartbreaking overtime road loss at Vanderbilt Thursday, this was as good an elixir as there is.

“It's huge,” said Jordan Jones, one of five UF seniors honored in a post-game ceremony along with fellow guards Bartley and Deana Allen, forward Ndidi Madu and center Azania Stewart.

“We talked about how you always want to win on Senior Day because it makes after the game more enjoyable. But just besides that, any opportunity to beat Georgia is huge. This is a great win for us against a ranked opponent, and it's momentum to build on in the future.”

Led by George's 15-point, six-rebound effort, 11 points from Bartley, a career-high 10 points from freshman Andrea Vilaro Aragones and nine from Jones, UF came out on top in a see-saw battle that featured nine ties and 15 lead changes, the last coming when George muscled inside to score with 2:29 left to play and put Florida ahead to stay, 55-54.

She scored again with 1:09 remaining following a Georgia miss to give the Gators a 57-54 lead, and Bartley took over from there, going 4-for-4 from the foul line in the final 7.8 seconds to seal the deal .

“I was hitting my free throws,” said Bartley. “So I just demanded the ball.”

“It feels great,” George said. “I think we're one of the hardest working teams in the SEC, and for us to get the reward feels good. I think that's where our team is at right now. We've had so many challenges in the past with close losses that we just refused to lose.”

The Bulldogs were led by 15 points from junior guard Jasmine Jones and 12 from junior forward Anne Marie Armstrong, who added a game-high seven rebounds.

UF won the rebounding war by a 42-32 margin against the taller Bulldogs and made five 3-pointers to two for Georgia, with Jones and Aragones each draining a pair.

Florida, ranked next-to-last in the SEC in foul shooting (57.6 percent), also came through at the charity stripe by hitting 14-of-19 (73.6 percent).

“We are practicing so hard during the week and we are shooting more free throws and 3-point shots,” Vilaro Aragones said. “I'm feeling good right now.”

So are the rest of the Gators, who can assure themselves of at least a .500 SEC record with a victory over Mississippi State (14-13, 4-10) in their home finale Thursday night at 7.

Florida closes out the regular-season at No. 13 Tennessee Sunday.

“This team, and in particular these seniors, got what they deserved,” Butler said. “When you look at this game statistically, I think that's who we are — the way we shot the ball, winning the rebound battle, the consistency and the balance and all those important things. But the most important part of that, and the part of which I am so proud, is they made that happen.”

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