UF women face Ohio State in NCAA Tournament opener

Forward Jennifer George leads the Gators in scoring (13 ppg.) and rebounding (9 rpg.).

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 12:12 a.m.

For the first time since 2009 and the second in her five-year tenure, head coach Amanda Butler will lead Florida into NCAA Tournament play when the Gators take on Ohio State today in first-round action in Bowling Green, Ohio.


Sunday's game

What: NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament
Who: No. 9 seed Florida (19-12) vs. No. 8 seed Ohio State (25-6)
When: 12:15 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN2/99.5 FM

Tip-off is set for 12:15 p.m. for the nationally televised (ESPN2) matchup.

The Gators (19-12), a No. 9 seed in the Des Moines Regional, watched Monday night's NCAA selection show at Butler's house. After not seeing their name come up in the first three brackets revealed, their patience was finally rewarded.

“It was the longest thirty-minute wait of my life,” senior guard Jordan Jones said. “I can't really explain. When our name finally came up across the screen, everybody just jumped up. Some people were crying. There were tears, but happy tears obviously.”

Butler could not be happier for her team, especially the five seniors who made this a goal before the season started.

“It was fun,” she said. “I think that when you choose to play at this level, this is certainly what you play for is a chance to prove yourself in the NCAA Tournament. This is absolutely what this team deserves.

“This is what these seniors wanted to do. They very courageously said at the beginning of the year, ‘This is who we are. We're an NCAA Tournament team, we want to contend in our league and we want to have the best season that we've had as a group,' and that's pretty much what they've done. I'm really excited for them to have a chance to play another day and play on this stage.”

The No. 8 seed Buckeyes (25-6), making their 10th straight NCAA Tournament appearance under former Vanderbilt head coach Jim Foster, are led by the backcourt duo of senior point guard Samantha Prahalis and junior Tayler Hill, a pair of first-team, All-Big Ten selections who average 20.1 and 20.3 points per game, respectively. Prahalis, the 2012 Big Ten Player of the Year who was recruited by Butler and made an official visit to UF, is the Buckeyes' career leader in assists (898) as well as the No. 4 all-time leading scorer (2,001 points).

“They have a really dynamic duo of guards in Sammy Prahalis and Tayler Hill, but they also have great size on the inside and are very well-coached,” Butler said. “They are just very dynamic in transition and are capable of scoring a lot of points. They're a team that's a little disappointed with their seed and probably have a little extra measure of hunger and fight in them.”

UF is led by first-team All-SEC forward Jennifer George, a junior who leads the team in scoring (13 ppg.) and rebounding (9 rpg.) and was recently selected to the WBCA All-Region 3 Team.

Jones also averages in double figures (11.6 ppg) and leads the Gators with 62 3-pointers.

Ironically, the site of today's game is where UF made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1993 under former coach Carol Ross. The point guard on that squad was Butler, who was a junior.

“I think when things kind of historically overlap like that, it's fun to talk about,” she said.“More than anything, though, it's a great place where girls' and women's basketball is very important, so it will be a great crowd and a really neat environment.”

For Florida, this year's draw is eerily similar to the last one in 2009. That year, the Gators' reward for winning their first-round game was a date with the No. 1 overall seed in Connecticut, which went on to claim the national title and finished 39-0.

Should Florida win today, waiting in round two Tuesday will likely be this year's No. 1 overall seed Baylor. The Bears (34-0), led by 6-8 junior All-America Brittney Griner, face No. 16 seed UC-Santa Barbara (17-15) following the UF-OSU matchup.

Regardless, senior guard Deana Allen feels the Gators are dangerous.

“Absolutely. We all want to go out with a bang,” she said. “We want to make a statement and keep advancing, so we're going to play our hearts out every game.”

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