Florida Gators women’s basketball wins their 20th game

Special report on the Florida Gators women’s basketball team

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – After it looked as though No. 22 Florida would pull away early, the Gators, behind Eleanna Christinaki’s fourth-quarter outburst, secured a 79-67 victory over Vanderbilt at the end end of a mostly back-and-forth affair played at the O’Connell Center Thursday evening.

Christinaki, a freshman guard, scored 11 points consecutive points in a seven-minute span of the fourth quarter to finish with a career-high 22 points, the highest individual scoring output by a Gator this season. The Athens, Greece native finished seven of 11 from the field and added four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals.

Four other Gators-Haley Lorenzen (12), Carlie Needles (10), Simone Westbrook (10) and Ronni Williams (10) -all scored in double figures, as well. Williams also collected a game-high 13 rebounds to net her eighth double-double this season and 13th of her career. Westbrook and Williams both dished five assists, with the total tying a career-best for Williams.

As a team, Florida shot 50 percent (25-50) from the field, marking the seventh time this season it shot the ball with such efficiency. The Gators were bolstered by a 7-of-16 mark (43.8 percent) from three-point range as well.

How It Happened

Despite shooting its way to a 15-4 lead halfway through the first quarter, the Gators had their hands full in a closely-contested SEC battle.

By the end of the opening frame, Vanderbilt trimmed the lead to two points. In the second quarter, both teams scored 23 points apiece, resulting in three ties and four lead changes, the last of which allowed Florida to grind out a 42-40 lead at halftime.

Although the Gators never trailed in the second half, they did not pull away until the closing four minutes of the third quarter, when they rattled off a 9-2 run and gained an eight-point advantage. Florida would lead by as many as nine points-twice-before it saw Vanderbilt cut the deficit to four points, 68-64, with 2:34 remaining in the game

The Gators sealed the win with Christinaki’s final five points followed by six consecutive made free throws pumped in by Needles, Williams and Cassie Peoples in the final 42 seconds of regulation.

Updated Records:

* Florida: 20-6, 8-5 SEC

* Vanderbilt: 15-11, 4-9 SEC

Florida vs. Vanderbilt Series History

* Tonight marked Florida’s first home victory over the Commodores since Jan. 22, 2006, snapping a six-game home losing streak in the series

* Florida has won three of its last four meetings with the Commodores, and now carries a 22-33 all-time record against Vanderbilt

* Florida recorded its largest margin of victory against Vanderbilt since Jan. 22, 2006, when it defeated the Commodores, 73-59, at the O’Connell Center

* Prior to Thursday’s game, six of the last seven in the series had been decided by single digits.

* The Gators improve to 11-13 all-time at home against Vanderbilt

Gator Starters

* Eleanna Christinaki, Haley Lorenzen, Carlie Needles, Simone Westbrook, Ronni Williams (3-2)

Numbers of Note

* The 2015-16 Gators are the 15th team in program history to post a 20-win season

* This is the first time since the 2008-09 campaign Florida has at least 20 wins prior to the SEC Tournament

* Tonight marked the third time this season the Gators shot at leas t 43 percent from three-point range when they attempted at least 15 triples, with the other occurrences coming at Wisconsin and at No. 12 Tennessee

* Haley Lorenzen scored 10 of her 12 points in the second half (had two at halftime)

* With her assist on Simone Westbrook’s three-pointer at the 8:24 mark of the first quarter, Carlie Needles collected her 200th career assist

* Ronni Williams notched her eighth double-double of the season, which was also the 13th of her career

* All 11 Gators who played, scored at least one point in the win

* Florida out-rebounded Vanderbilt by nine in the second half to win the battle of the boards, 35-30

Quotes from the Court

Florida Head Coach Amanda Butler

Opening Statement…

“I thought it was a fantastic team effort. I loved the way we attacked, and if you look at us shooting 34 free throws, even though we missed more than we would have liked, being super aggressive and putting ourselves in that position is part of when we are our best. I just loved the way the team played together tonight. Their energy was fantastic. They were so positive with each other. Their huddles were great. When we were communicating, it was exactly how we wanted it to sound and feel. It was reinforcing and in such a manner that we knew we were going to win. They didn’t want to let each other down.”

On withstanding Vanderbilt’s early run in the second period…

“We came out and hit shots right at the beginning and hit a couple of threes. That was exciting. It was an exciting way to start the game. But Vanderbilt’s pattern is very clear. They have been down a lot and then they come right back at you. One of the things we were talking about before the game was that we can’t get a lead and become casual. They really make you pay when you leave people open or there is a defensive miscue, for whatever reason. I think that is what you saw. We had a few miscues and you saw them capitalize. They are a good team.”

On the Play 4 Kay initiative…

“She was just an amazing woman. For those of us in the younger generations, that is the type of person that blazed the trails, that made women’s basketball important enough that we are sitting here with microphones and cameras in the back and people gathered to talk about the game. The Kay Yows of the world were the ones who made that possible. She did that with a tremendous amount of class, and in a way that we would all hope to emulate. Then her battle was nothing short of inspiring. I think the thing that is really inspiring about the Play 4 Kay initiative is that for the games played in this time, for a moment, we all become competitors on the same side. We take our institutional hats. We all put on pink and we all go and play to try and raise awareness, come together for that common goal for something that is really awful, and, at the same time, significant. It’s something we have to do in a cohesive way.”

Florida Sophomore Forward Haley Lorenzen

On her motivation to make the hustle plays during the game…

“Coach always talks about making plays, and there was a couple of times that I was getting tips. You are just hustling. That is just what we practice and that is just what Florida does. My teammates give me so much energy and so much confidence to do more than just be the ‘big girl’ inside. Getting tips on balls was just really exciting and I think that just pushed us over a hump.”

On the Play 4 Kay initiative tonight…

“She created opportunities for all of us to be here. My family has been impacted by (cancer) with my aunt. So to be able to have these pink-game nights where we can Play 4 Kay, and we can also play for those that have suffered from cancer in our own families or our friends’ families, it is just a wonderful night to just play for something that is greater than yourself.”

Florida Freshman Guard Eleanna Christinaki

On the team’s mindset entering tonight…

“Our theme going into today was domination by resuscitation. Today was my day. Tomorrow it will be someone else. We have a deep bench and that is what makes us a great team.”

Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb

Opening Statement…

“Down early, this time it was 15-4 before we worked ourselves back into the game. But that start has to make you want to pull your hair out.

“I kind of thought that would happen here. This team is very fast, and they go fast then anybody. You can’t simulate that in practice, so I was concerned we were going to get down quickly. I started Miaya (Seawright) for defense and to really try to do a better job of really trying to win, get three stops and start off better. Obviously, the strategy did not work. I knew we would come back and have a chance to win the game. I’m just disappointed, again, on how we started the second half. Same thing. You have to win the couple first minutes of each half. I think that is really important, and we’re not doing that.”

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Andrew Spivey
Andrew always knew he wanted to be involved with sports in some capacity. He began by coaching high school football for six years before deciding to pursue a career in journalism. While coaching, he was a part of two state semifinal teams in the state of Alabama. Given his past coaching experience, he figured covering recruiting would be a perfect fit. He began his career as an intern for Rivals.com, covering University of Florida football recruiting. After interning with Rivals for six months, he joined the Gator Country family as a recruiting analyst. Andrew enjoys spending his free time on the golf course and watching his beloved Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewSpiveyGC.