UF WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Tennessee uses late rally to slip by Florida


Florida's Jaterra Bonds (10) drives the ball against the Tennessee defender Ariel Massengale (5) during a game at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville on Sunday. The Gators lost to the Vols 78-75 in overtime.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 5:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 3:17 a.m.

So close.

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Florida's Jaterra Bonds (10) drives the ball against the Tennessee defender Ariel Massengale (5) during a game at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville on Sunday. The Gators lost to the Vols 78-75 in overtime.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer

Homestanding Florida fought back from a nine-point, second-half deficit to force overtime with No. 9 Tennessee Sunday, but the eight-time national champion Lady Vols came up big in the extra period to escape with a 78-75 Southeastern Conference win before a season-high crowd of 2,609 in the O'Connell Center.

With its sixth victory in a row, Tennessee improved to 13-3, 4-0 while the gutsy young Gators (13-5, 2-2), who had several chances to win despite losing their best player, senior All-SEC forward Jennifer George, to injury with 3:56 left to play in the first half, saw their 15-game home winning streak and seven-game SEC unbeaten streak in the O-Dome ended.

“I told our team that we're on a little journey right now,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “We've got a little growth process going on, and part of that growth process is sometimes coming up a little bit short. That fuels your fire even more, and I think that's where we're at.

“We had our opportunities. I think we're going to kick ourselves when we go back and look at the game in its entirety and not just the last couple of plays, which are the ones that always seem to stick with people, and know that this was our game.”

Junior guard Meighan Simmons was the catalyst for the Lady Vols, scoring a game-high 27 points on 11-of-23 shooting from the floor, including a 4-of-9 effort from 3-point range.

“Situations like that are when we play Tennessee basketball,” Simmons said. “We all did our role and we stepped up and ended up getting the W.”

Tennessee led 37-34 after a back-and-forth first half, but there was definite concern for UF after George left the game in pain after re-injuring her dislocated right shoulder in almost the exact same location on the court as she suffered the original injury late in last Sunday's win over LSU.

Indications were that she would return in the second half, but doctors re-evaluated her and decided to hold her out. She watched the second half from the bench.

“I thought that was huge,” first-year Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said. “What (6-2 freshman forward) Bashaara (Graves) does for us, George does for them. She's a big-time player.

“But credit to Florida. It did not appear to me that they let up.”

Behind the play of Simmons, Graves (17 points, 12 rebounds) and point guard Ariel Massengale (12 points), Tennessee was able to expand its three-point halftime lead to nine, 51-42, forcing a UF timeout with 16:26 remaining in the game.

But the Gators responded, with junior point guard and Gainesville native Jaterra Bonds, who scored 16 points to lead UF in scoring for the fourth consecutive game, leading the charge and hitting back-to-back, 18-foot jumpers to pull UF within one, 58-57, with 9:23 left.

UT stretched the lead to five, 64-59, but Bonds hit a trey and backup center Vicky McIntyre connected on a short shot following a Tennessee miss to knot things up at 64-all with 5:07 on the clock.

Following another UT miss, Bonds hit a running floater with 4:27 left to play to give the Gators their first lead of the second half, and from there it was nip-and-tuck until the final horn.

Freshman January Miller, who joined redshirt freshman Carlie Needles with 11 points for UF, hit a jumper from the top of the key with 29 seconds left to put Florida on top 70-69, but Graves sank one of two free throws with 13 ticks left to tie things at 70, and Bonds was unable to get off a shot before the buzzer as the game went to overtime.

There, the Gators, who had shot free throws so well in their first three SEC games (75.3 percent), struggled, connecting on just 1-of-5 attempts in the extra frame to finish 6-of-13 (46.2 percent), while Tennessee, which was 16-of-22 from the charity stripe and 4-of-6 in overtime, came up with the key hoops and defensive stops it needed to pull out the win and improve to 45-3 all-time vs. UF.

UF returns to action Sunday at home against South Carolina at 1 p.m.

“We've got a bye week,” Butler said. “It's a great opportunity for us to be really mad, really inspired and really determined and work really, really hard.”

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