Butler’s 50th victory at Florida comes easy

Sophomore guard Trumae Lucas scored a career-high 15 points to lead three Florida players in double figures as the Gators closed out the 2009 portion of their schedule with an 80-54 victory over Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

The victory was the 50th at her alma mater for head coach Amanda Butler, who is in her third season as Florida’s coach and fifth overall as a head coach.

The Gators, who improved to 7-6 by winning back-to-back games for the second time this season, open Southeastern Conference play Sunday at Arkansas (8-5). Tipoff is at 3 p.m.

Florida shot 54.5 percent (30 of 55) from the floor and limited Jacksonville to just 26.5 percent (18 of 68) while forcing 21 turnovers. It was the third time this season that Florida has held an opponent under 55 points and the third time this season Florida has scored 80 or more points and won.

“We had great balance and great effort, especially in the way we started the game,” Butler said. “It was important for us to come out of the gates and land the first punch to get them [Jacksonville] back on their heels. We had tremendous bench play and did all the things we need to see and dictate in a game as we go into SEC play.”

Lucas’ 15 points were one better than her previous career best (against Kentucky last season). She was 7-of-7 from the free-throw line and also had a career high five assists.

Senior forward Sharielle Smith had 11 points and 13 rebounds – her sixth career double-double and third this season. She also had a season-high three steals. Freshman center Jennifer George added 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting to complement five rebounds and blocked a career-high four shots.

“I’m really proud of the way George played,” Butler said. “The thing I’m so proud of is she played so tough. One of the things we talked to her in practice about and her teammates are always encouraging her about is she needs to trust how strong she is. She is just a physical presence and we don’t want her to settle for anything less than the ‘and-1.’ She was very determined and focused on putting the ball in the hole.”

Senior guard Lonnika Thompson, who has been one of the key sparks in Florida’s increased defensive intensity, tied a career high with eight assists. Senior guard Steffi Sorensen added eight points, including two 3-pointers. Sophomore center Azania Stewart had seven points and blocked two shots.

The Gators took a 41-18 advantage into the locker room at halftime, its largest lead at intermission to date this season. Florida’s largest lead of 25 points, 64-39, came with 7:09 remaining. The Dolphins (1-9) never got closer than 21 points. Courtney Jackson led Jacksonville with 18 points.