UF women’s hoops rolls in home finale
Published: Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 24, 2012 at 12:22 a.m.
As far as home finales go, you couldn’t script one much better than Florida’s 79-45 thrashing of Mississippi State before an O’Connell Center crowd of 1,098 Thursday night.
Coach Amanda Butler’s Gators turned in a dominating performance in putting another win on their NCAA Tournament resume heading into their regular-season finale at No. 10 Tennessee on Sunday.
Florida (18-10, 8-7) scored the first 11 points of the game and never trailed en route to posting its largest margin of victory this season. UF, which led 33-18 at the half, won the rebounding battle 51-29, shot 43.3 percent (29 of 67) from the field while holding the Bulldogs to 30.9 percent (17 of 55), forced 21 MSU turnovers, hit nine 3-pointers, was 12-of-14 (85.7 percent) from the foul line, had a 28-8 edge in points off turnovers, and all 10 UF players scored for the sixth time this season.
And talk about a fitting ending. Butler put her five seniors — Azania Stewart, Jordan Jones, Deana Allen, Ndidi Madu and Lanita Bartley — on the floor for the final 2:08 of the game to allow them to close out their last home game together. During that stretch, Allen hit a 3-pointer, Stewart converted a conventional three-point play to complete her second double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds) of the season, and Jones, who led all scorers with 18 points, capped the Gator scoring for the night with her sixth 3-pointer with 16 seconds left, tying her UF career high. Bartley, meanwhile, picked up two of her game-high five assists with passes to Allen and Jones for their treys.
“This was a really big win for us,” Butler said. “I think it was important for us for a lot of reasons, but more importantly to finish out for these seniors here on their home court in a great fashion. Also, just to have no letdown after the big win on Sunday (upset of No. 18 Georgia), to really just show a lot of maturity and poise going forward.”
“Everyone on the team is spending more time in the gym than any time since I’ve been here,” Jones said. “Our coaches are getting down there with us. We’re shooting 100 free throws a day and getting a lot of shots up with our position coaches.”
Junior forward Jennifer George, UF’s leading scorer and rebounder and All-SEC candidate, finished with 12 points and grabbed eight boards despite being the focus of the MSU defense.
Sophomore Jaterra Bonds scored nine points, Allen had seven, and Madu scored six points and added nine rebounds.
“This is how we like to win,” Butler said. “We shot the ball well from the free throw line, we won the rebounding battle convincingly, had great balance, had more assists than turnovers – you know, this is what we want our box score to look like. It’s going to be really important to produce a box score that looks similar to this on our next trip.”
Senior guard Porsha Porter was the lone bright spot for the Bulldogs (14-14, 4-11) with 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field.
Prior to the game, Butler presented MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis with flowers and the crowd gave her a nice ovation as her coaching resume was read aloud. The 36-year veteran, one of just 14 coaches with 600 or more career wins, announced Monday she is retiring at the end of the season.
Afterward, Butler was feeling flowery about UF’s NCAA chances.
“If it’s an at-large selection, there’s no question in my mind that we should be there,” she said. “The other part about that that’s great is there are still opportunities and games to play, and that’s what we’ve got to be focused on.”
“Do I know if this team deserves it or is in that top echelon of teams in the country? There’s not a doubt in my mind. We need to go out Sunday and prove that even more and go to the SEC Tournament after that and prove it again.”