UF prepares to host powerhouse Lady Vols


Florida's Jaterra Bonds is called for a charge against Tennessee during a 2011 game at the O'Connell Center. The Gators host the No. 9 Lady Vols today.

Matt Stamey/Staff Photographer
Published: Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 5:35 p.m.

Legendary head coach Pat Summitt may no longer patrol the sideline, but rest assured Tennessee is still the mountaintop when it comes to women's basketball in the Southeastern Conference.

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Florida's Jaterra Bonds is called for a charge against Tennessee during a 2011 game at the O'Connell Center. The Gators host the No. 9 Lady Vols today.

Matt Stamey/Staff Photographer

Facts

Sunday's game

Who: No. 9 Tennessee (12-3, 3-0 SEC) at Florida (13-4, 2-1)
When: 11:30 a.m.
Where: O'Connell Center
Gainesville-area TV: ESPNU
Gainesville-area radio: 99.5 FM

“Playing Tennessee is a challenge because they're a very good team,” said Florida head coach Amanda Butler, whose Gators (13-4, 2-1 SEC) face the No. 9 Lady Vols (12-3, 3-0) in a nationally televised SEC matchup (ESPNU) at 11:30 a.m. today in the O'Connell Center.

“I think to this point, and obviously it's a very young SEC season, they've probably looked like the best team in the league thus far with their margins of victories over good teams. They're a great rebounding team, they're a great scoring team, just terrific in transition and well-coached. There's a lot of things that we've got to handle. We've got to play great defense, and we've got to make sure we win the battle of the paint.”

The latter is a concern considering UF's best player, first-team All-SEC forward Jennifer George, is still on the mend from a dislocated right shoulder suffered late in last Sunday's home SEC win over LSU.

She did play 17 minutes of Thursday night's 61-55 SEC road win over Mississippi State and had three rebounds and three blocked shots but did not score.

“My shoulder is getting stronger every day,” said George, who leads UF in scoring and rebounding with marks of 13.7 points and 8.9 rebounds a game, respectively.

“Tennessee is a great team. It's going to be a good challenge, but like coach Butler always says, 'You've got to beat the best to be the best,' so that's what we have to do.”

Junior point guard Jaterra Bonds, UF's second-leading scorer (11.6 ppg), has really stepped up her production in SEC play. The former P. K. Yonge standout has scored 21, 19 and 17 points — all team-highs — in the last three games, an average of 19 points a contest.

“I'm just playing free and playing confident,” Bonds said. “I'm just doing what I do best and not trying to force anything. My teammates are giving me the ball in the right spots, and I'm just making plays.”

Former Lady Vol standout and assistant coach Holly Warwick has taken over at Tennessee, which is 44-3 all-time against UF and has won eight NCAA crowns and 16 SEC titles.

UT is led by junior guard Meighan Simmons (15.9 ppg), 6-foot-2 freshman forward Bashaara Graves (14.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and 6-3 sophomore center Isabelle Harrison (10.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg).

Today's game also kicks off the SEC's second “We Back Pat Week” in support of the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund's fight against Alzheimer's disease, and Butler is hoping for a big crowd to help spur the Gators, who have won 15 straight games and seven consecutive SEC contests in the O'Dome dating back to last season.

“This is a team that really responds to the energy created in this building,” she said, “and that has a whole lot to do with how many folks show up in orange and blue.”

In other news, UF has a new face in the program.

Freshman Antoinette Bannister, a former standout at prep powerhouse Potter's House Christian Academy in Jacksonville who averaged 32 points a game as a senior last year and finished her career as the most prolific scorer in Florida high school history (4,758 points), played in eight games during the fall for 11th-ranked North Carolina before transferring to UF last week.

“I'm excited to be back home,” Bannister said. “Back in October, I found out my mom was sick, so I had been battling whether or not 'Do I want to go home?' I just prayed about it and finally decided I wanted to move closer to home. She just had surgery Thursday morning and she's doing pretty good.”

As a transfer, Bannister must sit out a year, meaning she would be eligible at the end of the fall term next season. However, UF could petition the NCAA for her to be eligible sooner.

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