By Jenna Ladd
The Gators had a fantastic season opener against Jacksonville with an 84-73 win in front of 1,439 rowdy fans in the O’Connell Center on Friday.
Antoinette Bannister led the team with 15 points. Ronni Williams added 14 points and made all four of her free throw attempts to emphasize two of the great individual performances by the Gators. Kayla Lewis wasn’t far behind and raked in a total of 12 points, while Dyandria Anderson and freshman Haley Lorenzen both charted six points as Florida took the win over Jacksonville.
“Obviously we’re really pleased to be able to come out with a win and hopefully set the tone. I think we’re in no danger of peaking too early, I don’t think we played too well today collectively,” Coach Butler said. “Individually though, I think we had a lot of things to be really proud of.”
The Gators showed toughness in playing a team that showed such resiliency whenever Florida would pull away, Jacksonville would come back. This made for an interesting game that kept fairly close in score, however Florida held the lead throughout the game.
“I think this year we’re really tough, you know at the beginning of the season we had Camp Hector which was all defense and that made us you know really, really tough,” said junior guard, Antoinette Bannister.
At halftime, Florida held a lead of 37-33 over Jacksonville and started the scoring in the second-half when Williams made a jumper just 30 seconds in. Less than a minute later, a Jacksonville layup trimmed the Gator lead to four, but Bannister came back with a layup putting us back at a six-point lead with 15:13 left.
The Gators held a lead of six points or greater up until Jacksonville made a 3-pointer putting the score at 60-55 with 7:52 left in the final frame. However, Florida quickly responded with layups by Lewis and Bannister and a jumper by Lorenzen putting them up by 11.
Following, Lorenzen made a layup trailed by two successful free throws by January Miller which set the tone for free throws in the last five minutes of the game. There was another layup by Bannister putting the score at 72-66 before breaking into the majority of the rest of the Gators’ points coming from free throws.
Bannister and Williams lead the Gators in successful free throws with Williams going four-for-four and Bannister going three-for-four. In the last two minutes of the game alone, 10 of the Gators’ 12 points came from not missing a single free throw. They finished the game off with two free throws completed by Cassie Peoples putting the final score at 84-73.
“Well we shoot free throws all the time on our own, we have practice, before practice, after practice, so we should make free throws,” Williams said. “They’re free.”
The Gators had been working hard to start out their season strong, and they did just that by pulling out the win over Jacksonville. Even though Coach Butler said that she believed the team “did not do a good job of capitalizing all of our opportunities” and that they needed to protect the ball more, she did say that they came out of this game with a lot of positives as well.
“But all in all, there are a lot of positives for us to build on and we’ve got a realistic sense of the things that we have to work on, primarily our defense,” Coach Butler said. “We’re just giving up too many points too easily.”
As far as the team’s reaction, they were just excited to show the Gator nation what they had been working towards. Ronni Williams said, “It felt great just to be able to do it with the team, we’ve been working hard ever since the summer time in July, we’ve been going at it. So just being able to come out here and actually show what we’ve been working on is a blessing.”