Florida stifles No. 25 Arkansas in upset win

Florida coach Amanda Butler and the Gators extended their win streak to nine games, following a 59-52 victory over Arkansas on Thursday.

Matt Stamey / Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 10:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 11:17 p.m.

Fresh off Sunday’s 83-73 upset road win over No. 6 Kentucky, the Florida Gators won their ninth straight game and moved to 3-0 in SEC play for the first time since the 1997-98 season with a 59-52 victory over No. 25 Arkansas on Thursday evening before an O’Connell Center crowd of 1,369.

“It’s very, very important for us to play well every night, but certainly at home,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “When you have the opportunity with a talented team like Arkansas to come in here, we’ve got to handle our business, and I think we were just willing to do whatever it took.”

Balanced scoring by the Gators (13-3, 3-0) and a key 12-0 run in the second half in which the Razorbacks (14-2, 1-2) went more than nine minutes without scoring proved to be the difference.

“I think we played smarter defense,” Butler said. “That was probably the section of the game when we did the best job rebounding. We were just not winning the rebounding battle.”

Senior Jaterra Bonds led the way with 15 points while sophomores January Miller and Christin Mercer each added 13.

Sophomore Carlie Needles scored eight points and redshirt junior Kayla Lewis added six points and a team-high nine rebounds as the Gators survived despite a pair of 23-point scoring performances from Arkansas freshmen Jessica Jackson and McKenzie Adams.

“This was a tough loss for us,” Arkansas head coach Tom Collen said. “I felt like we played well enough to win even though we didn’t play great basketball. We took the lead and then certainly had some wide-open shots that would have kept us in the lead or tied the game back up, but we missed those shots. That’s a little frustrating for us.”

After the two teams battled to a 24-24 tie at the half, Arkansas took a 31-29 lead with 16:50 left to play only to go scoreless for more than nine minutes as the Gators forged a 41-31 lead.

But behind the play of the 6-foot-3 Jackson, who finished with a double-double (10 rebounds) and scored 19 of her points after the break including 15 in a row at one point, the Razorbacks fought back to within 47-46 with 2:27 remaining.

Crucial hoops inside from Lewis and Mercer, sandwiched around an Arkansas free throw, made it 51-47 as the clocked ticked under a minute, and after struggling earlier from the foul line, the Gators stepped up and hit 8-of-8 from the charity stripe in the final 40 seconds to secure the win in a game that featured five ties and six lead changes.

The Gators, who received votes in this week’s poll, will try and knock off their third straight ranked opponent when they take on No. 13 LSU on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Baton Rouge in a nationally televised game on ESPNU.

“It just feels good, but you can’t relax,” Bonds said of UF’s current run. “You’ve got to come in that next day and put in the work like we’ve been doing.”

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