Florida faces road test at Drexel in WNIT semifinal


Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 8:04 p.m.

After reeling off four road wins to advance to the WNIT semifinals, Florida will once again step into a hostile environment tonight when it squares off at 7 against Drexel at the John A. Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia.

Facts

Tonight's game

Who: Florida Gators (22-14) vs. Drexel Dragons (26-10)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: John A. Daskalakis Athletic Center, Philadelphia
Gainesville-area radio: 99.5 FM

“We've showed a tremendous amount of toughness and guts and perseverance through all of the things we've faced on the road,” said UF coach Amanda Butler, who is 11-5 in the postseason in six years with the Gators. “The adversity of playing in front of great crowds full of Gator haters and had some fantastic individual performances. I'm really proud of what we've been able to do to this point. Our kids have worked very, very hard and we're excited about the next challenge.”

Florida's 2013 WNIT run into the semifinals, including Sunday's 85-80 win at James Madison in the round of 8, is just the second time in the 16-year history of the event that a team has reached the Final Four without playing a home game. Syracuse won four games in the 2012 tournament and reached the semifinals, but lost at James Madison, 74-71. No team has ever reached the WNIT championship game without playing at home.

Drexel (26-10) opened its run with home wins against Iona and Harvard, before capturing a pair of road victories at Bowling Green and Auburn.

Wednesday's game will be the first meeting between the two programs.

“They are really talented and a tough, tough matchup for us,” Butler said. “They have player on their team, Hollie Mershon, who can play in any league in any tournament right now. She's very special and very talented. She leads her team in just about every category.”

A 5-foot-10 senior forward, Mershon leads the Dragons in scoring (19.4 ppg), rebounding (6.2 rpg) and assists (4.8 apg), while hitting 35.8 percent of her shots from the 3-point arc.

Taylor Wootton, a 6-foot-1 senior forward, also records a double-figure scoring effort with 11.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

“They are very well coached," Butler said. "That's one of the things that when you watch them on film you go, ‘Oh, gosh!' They pose a lot of different challenges and can really shoot the ball well. They do a great job of controlling tempo and making you play their style of game. We're definitely going to have our hands full, especially playing on their court."

Drexel finished third in the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season standings, while Florida was tied for eighth in the Southeastern Conference.

Three of UF's four WNIT games this year have been decided by seven points or less, including the last two games which featured a combined 26 lead changes and 14 tied scores.

During UF's four-game WNIT run, freshman Sydney Moss is averaging team bests of 19.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, hitting 54.7 percent from the floor. She has had two 20-point games and one double-double. Moss is the Gators' leader in assists at 3.8 per game and ranks second on the team in scoring (11.6 ppg), rebounding (6.7 rpg) and steals (1.4 pg).

Junior guard Jaterra Bonds is contributing 16.5 points, converting 82.6 percent from the free-throw line during the WNIT, setting a UF record for made free throws in a season during the tournament. She hit the game-winner with three seconds remaining in the two-point round of 16 win at Charlotte and converted four free throws in the final 23.4 seconds to seal the victory at James Madison in the quarterfinals.

While Florida (22-14) has made five previous trips to the postseason, the current group of Gators was a bit lean on postseason experience entering 2013.

Only Jennifer George, Florida's lone senior, Lily Svete and Bonds have played in a postseason game prior to this year.

The other WNIT semifinal features Utah (22-13) playing at Kansas State (19-17) tonight at 8.

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