Florida routs Tennessee St. at Holiday Classic

Florida forward Christin Mercer, left, finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds in the Gators' 86-56 win over Tennessee State on Friday at the Holiday Classic held in the O'Connell Center.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, December 20, 2013 at 11:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 20, 2013 at 11:53 p.m.

Behind double-doubles from sophomore Christin Mercer and redshirt junior Kayla Lewis and another strong all-around effort from redshirt sophomore Cassie Peoples, host Florida led wire-to-wire en route to posting an 86-56 win over Tennessee State before an O'Connell Center crowd of 1,152 Friday in first-round action of the 23rd Annual Gator Holiday Classic.


Holiday Classic championship

Saturday's game
Florida (8-3) vs. FIU (4-5), 7 p.m., Stephen C. O’Connell Center

With the win, their fourth in a row, the Gators (8-3) moved into Saturday's tournament championship game at 7 where they will take on FIU, an 84-58 winner over La Salle in Friday's opener.

“It was a really, really tough, physical and hard-fought game,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “We had a lot of factors to manage and a lot of adversity to overcome, and I was proud of the way that we did that.”

Lewis led the way, putting up 19 points and 13 rebounds — both game-high marks — for her second straight double-double despite sitting out the final 9:18 of the game after landing hard on her back while attempting to secure a rebound and eventually being helped from the court.

Mercer stepped up in her absence and played strong down the stretch, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Peoples scored 16 points and joined Mercer and senior guard Jaterra Bonds in dishing out five assists.

Junior Brianna Morrow led the Lady Tigers (3-9) with 12 points and added six rebounds.

A whopping 50 combined personal fouls were whistled on the two teams, resulting in a choppy contest with plenty of ebb but no flow.

“I would say keeping your composure was pretty hard,” Mercer said. “We just basically had to take a deep breath and play basketball.”

Florida raced out to a 14-2 lead, but led by only 14, 43-29, at the half. The Gators gradually pulled away, however, thanks to shooting 62.5 percent (15-of-24) in the second half.

In the opener, FIU senior Jerica Coley, the two-time Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and 2013-14 Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year, poured in 33 points — her 29th consecutive game in double figures — to pace the Panthers (4-5) to victory.

Kamika Idom had 11 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, while Tynia McKinzie and Taylor Shade each added 15 points in the win.

The Explorers (3-6), who got 13 points apiece from Alicia Cropper and freshman Micahya Owens, cut the deficit to 13, 50-37, five minutes into the second half but could not get any closer. They will play Tennessee State today at 4:30 p.m. in the third-place game.

Florida, meanwhile, will try and find a way to slow down Coley, who poured in 37 points the last time the two teams met in UF's 75-68 win at FIU in the opening round of last year's NWIT.

“She's a very, very talented young lady with a very smooth and complete game, and then she's managed by a great coach (Cindy Russo) who's been winning games for a long time,” Butler said. “We know we're going to have our hands full. It's going to have to be a really quick mental turnaround. We've got to do everything we can to kind of rejuvenate ourselves and get ready for the challenge.”

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