COLUMBIA, S.C. – Florida built a 17-point lead early in the second half and withstood a furious rally to secure a thrilling 60-57 victory over South Carolina on Sunday afternoon at the Colonial Center.
Sophomore Sharielle Smith scored 17 of her career-high 18 points in the first half, while helping the Gators (14-6, 3-2 SEC) assemble a 33-20 halftime lead. After Florida scored the first four points of the second half, the Gamecocks (11-9, 0-5 SEC) staged a 13-0 run to get within four points and the final 14 minutes of the contest saw the Gator’s lead challenged, as USC got within one point, 53-52, with 4:25 to play, but never completely erased the deficit.
USC’s Jordan Jones hit what would have been the game-tying three-pointer, but the final horned had sounded just moments before the ball left her hand, as Florida earned its first win against the Gamecocks in Columbia since Jan. 16, 2005, when the Gators earned the
“This was a very exciting ballgame and we’re happy to get out of here with a win,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “When you look at the key statistics, we were very fortunate because we did not do a good job on the boards or at the free throw line, but we had great individual play by a lot of different people at different times. Sharielle carried us through the first half. Depree (Bowden) sensed the moment and stepped up and hit shots when it was crucial that we score. Then, as always, Marshae (Dotson) stepped up and made a play in the paint when we needed one.
“When you can get a road win, regardless of what it looked like, you have to high-five each other and head back to the house.”
Florida was out-rebounded 48-36, allowing 21 offensive rebounds, but Marshae Dotson secured the Gator’s most important rebound late, corralling one on the defensive end with under 10 seconds remaining after South Carolina had crashed the boards trying for a bucket to tie the game.
Dotson hit one of two free throws to give Florida a 60-57 lead, before Jordon Jones’ final shot came after the final buzzer.
Florida made just 11-of-21 free throws in the game, including just
3-of-8 in the final three minutes, well below the team’s 71 percent average it sported entering the game. The Gators shot 40.4 percent
(23-57) overall from the floor during the game, but 32.3 percent (10-31) in the final 20 minutes when South Carolina hit 42.9 percent, an improvement from its 21.9 percent (7-32) effort in the opening period.
Bowden scored the first four points of the second half to extend Florida’s lead to 17 points, 37-20, before South Carolina stormed back with a 13-0 run in just under three minutes, as the Gator advantage evaporated to four points, 37-33, with 14:16 left.
Sha Brooks halted the run with a driving layup and followed in the next possession with one free throw to bring UF’s lead back to seven, 40-33, with 13:42 left.
USC’s Demetress Adams followed with a short jumper and was fouled, but couldn’t complete the three-point play, as the Gator lead stood at five points, 40-35. Jennifer Mossor then connected on an 8-footer in the paint and brought the lead back to seven with just under 13 minutes to play.
Four straight points from the home team cut UF’s advantage to three,
42-39, but Brooks hit a short jumper, before Ilona Burgrova hit two from the free throw line with 11:02 on the clock and the Gators holding a three-point lead, 44-41.
Dotson came alive in the paint, scoring the next six pointsin a 45-second span to increase UF’s lead to nine, 50-41, with 10 minutes to go.
South Carolina refused to fold and scored four straight points to get within five. Dotson followed with a three-point play and put UF ahead eight, with 9:06 remaining, but the Gamecocks continued their run by using a 7-0 march over the next two-plus minutes and were within one point, 53-52, with 4:23 left in regulation.
Depree Bowden ended the spree with a sweet floater in the lane and Dotson converted a pair from the stripe to build the lead back to five,
57-52, with 3:36 remaining. Ebony Jones sank two from the line for USC before Aneika Henry hit one to swell the lead back to four points, 58-54, with 2:30 on the clock.
The cold streak for both teams continued, as Smith added to UF’s lead with one free throw at the 1:05 mark, giving the Gators a
59-54 spread. Ebony Jones ended the dry spell by coolly nailing a three-pointer in front the Gamecock bench and brought USC within two points, 59-57, with 53 seconds remaining. Florida then turned the ball over for the 15th time in the game and USC collected the errant pass and called a timeout with 23.4 seconds on the clock.
Ebony Jones had an open look at a three and missed it; however she scooped up the loose ball and put up a short jumper that also fell off the rim. Dotson skied for the rebound and came up with the ball as she was fouled. She made one of two free throws with eight seconds remaining to give Florida a three-point margin, 60-57.
UF’s defensive pressure slowed USC coming up the floor and Jones was forced to launch a three-pointer that actually fell, but just moments after the final horn sounded.
Smith was the offensive star of the first half, scorching the net for a career-high 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including a perfect
3-of-3 effort from behind the arc and 2-of-2 from the free throw line, as she led Florida to a 33-20 halftime advantage.
The Gators return to action on Thursday, when Florida plays host to Vanderbilt in the O’Connell Center beginning at 7 p.m. The radio broadcast of the game can be heard live in Gainesville on WRUF AM-850 and through the internet at http://www.GatorZone.com.