UF claims Holiday Classic title
Published: Friday, December 21, 2012 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 12:11 a.m.
Behind the strong second-half play of Tournament MVP Sydney Moss and a stellar 18-point, 10-rebound effort from Kayla Lewis, host Florida was able to turn back a determined Central Michigan squad, 81-75, to capture the 2012 Gator Holiday Classic title Friday night before an O’Connell Center crowd of 704.
It was the closest championship game since 1999, when Boston College edged Florida 66-61.
Moss, a true freshman who was the 2012 Kentucky Miss Basketball, and Lewis, a redshirt sophomore, combined to score 11 of UF’s 14 points during a crucial 14-6 UF run after the Gators lost junior point guard Jaterra Bonds to fouls with 7:59 left to play while holding a 59-51 lead.
That run gave Florida (10-3) a seemingly safe 73-57 lead, but the Chippewas (5-5) kept chipping away with several steals and big hoops down the stretch with Florida’s floor leader off the floor. That was before redshirt freshman guard Carlie Needles sealed the deal on UF’s fifth straight win by hitting 3-of-4 free throws in the final 25.4 seconds.
Florida won despite committing a season-high 29 turnovers, overcoming them by shooting 55.4 percent from the field (31-of-56) led by Bonds (15 points), who was 7-of-8 from the field before fouling out for the first time in her UF career. Lewis was 8-of-13, and Moss was 5-of-9.
“We beat a very good team,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “I’m proud of that. Sometimes wins aren’t as pretty as we hope they would be. This one had its spots and its moments and it had its ugly spots, but we survived them, and I think for this team sometimes learning hard lessons is going to be the most valuable way to grow.”
Moss, who led the Gators with 17 points in their opening-round win over Savannah State, started slowly, scoring only three points in the first half against the Chippewas before finishing with 16.
Lewis, meanwhile, was active under the basket, recording her second double-double of the season and her career while setting a new career-high in scoring, topping the 15 points she scored against Pacific two weeks ago.
“Today was just kind of suited for who I am,” Lewis said. “I’m a slippery player and I just got inside the seam of that zone they played a lot. When you have great players like a Jennifer George who causes so much down low and penetrators like Sydney and Jaterra, it’s easy for me to get open shots.”
George, the 2011 Tournament MVP, just missed her fifth straight double-double, finishing with nine points and eight rebounds, while Needles, redshirt junior Lily Svete and freshman January Miller all added seven points apiece for UF.
The Chippewas, who had six players score in double figures in their first-round win over St. Joseph’s, again showed great balance, placing five players in double digits led by senior guard Jessica Schroll’s 15 points. Sophomores Jas’Mine Bracey and Jessica Green each added 12 points, with Bracey also recording a team-high eight rebounds.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair, with the Gators holding a slim 16-15 lead after a 3-pointer by CMU’s Taylor Johnson with 11:11 left before halftime.
But Bonds, who hit all five of her first-half shots, keyed a 20-10 UF run the rest of the way, capping it with a buzzer-beating baseline jumper to send the Gators to the locker room up by 11, 36-25.
St. Joseph’s (Pa.) had no trouble in taking care of Savannah State in the consolation game earlier, winning 88-41 to improve to 6-4 on the season.
Senior forward Chatilla van Grinsven, who had a game-high 18 points in the Hawks’ opening round loss to Central Michigan, again led the way with 20 points and added six rebounds, while the Tigers (5-8) were led by forward Erin Hogue’s 16 points.
Van Grinsven and Hogue joined Florida’s Moss and George and Central Michigan’s Schroll in earning All-Tournament honors.
UF closes out its pre-SEC schedule next Friday night at home against Holy Cross.