UF Women defeat FGCU 60-55 in WNIT

Sophomore guard Jennifer Mossor scored a team-high 14 points off the bench to lead the University of Florida women’s basketball team to a 60-55 victory over Florida Gulf Coast in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Monday night, halting UF’s three-game postseason losing skid and securing the Gators’ first postseason win in four years.

Florida (19-13) advances to the third round where the Gators play N.C. State (19-12) on Thursday, March 27 at 7 p.m. in Raleigh. The Wolfpack defeated South Carolina, 72-69, in their second-round game on Thursday.

Mossor’s 14 points led Florida to a 23-2 advantage in bench scoring on the night, while UF’s 18 offensive rebounds propelled it to a 43-36 edge on the boards and a 25-9 margin in second-chance points. Junior guard Sha Brooks tallied her 11th consecutive double-figure scoring game by adding 12 points and four of the Gators’ nine steals on the evening, while sophomore Sharielle Smith led the team with 10 rebounds. Junior guard Kim Critton also helped out with five points and seven boards, three of which came on the offensive end of the floor, in a reserve role against the Eagles (22-9).

“It was a hard-fought battle on both sides, which is what you expect when you play postseason basketball,” Florida head coach Amanda Butler said. “They are a very talented team and they came in with a great game plan, so you have to credit them. We had some unique performances from people that we haven’t necessarily relied on this year, and that’s what you hope to get at this time of the year. We had some of our best practices of the year leading up to this game, and we didn’t shoot the ball confidently tonight, but the postseason is all about being tough and pulling out wins.”

In addition to representing the Gators’ first postseason victory since the first round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament, Monday night’s victory was also the 550th in program history and marked the team’s 14th home win of the campaign, which equals the second-best total in school history. The Orange and Blue also tied the program record for biggest turnaround in back-to-back seasons with 19 wins after finishing 9-22 a year ago, while Butler earned a share of the school record for most victories by a first-year head coach.

“Your mentality in the postseason is ‘win and advance,’ Butler said. “Losing pretty doesn’t count. We’ll be back at practice tomorrow preparing for North Carolina State, and getting ready to put our best game on the floor next time we play.”

An early 4-0 deficit didn’t phase the Gators, as they ripped off a 7-0 run to assume a three-point lead at the first media timeout. Florida Gulf Coast fought back to take a 22-15 lead midway through the half, but a three-point play by junior guard Kim Critton and a slashing layup from junior guard Sha Brooks fueled a 6-0 UF run and tied the game at 24-24 before the Eagles asked for timeout with 5:36 left before the break.

Critton provided another spark for Florida just moments later when she blocked an FGCU layup attempt and saved the ball from going out of bounds, then raced down the court to grab an offensive rebound and dish to Brooks, who nailed a jumper from the top of the key to propel the Orange and Blue to a 28-26 edge.

The Gators outscored Florida Gulf Coast 11-1 over the last 5:40 of the first half, holding the Eagles without a field goal for the last 5:20 of the frame, and entered the locker room with a 35-27 advantage.

“We had lapses in play that we too long to win the game tonight, and Florida is a team that will take advantage of your mistakes,” Florida Gulf Coast head coach Karl Smesko said. “(Amanda Butler) made some key adjustments at the end of the first half and that forced us to get away from our game plan. We battled and played as hard as we can. I can’t fault our effort, but we had some lapses in execution.”

Brooks, senior guard Depree Bowden and sophomore guard Jennifer Mossor each scored six points in the first half to lead UF, which shot 44.1 percent from the floor and jumped out to a 24-16 edge on the boards in the opening 20 minutes. The Gators also blocked three shots in the first half en route to limiting FGCU to just a 36.7 percent efficiency rating in the opening stanza.

Brooks opened the second-half scoring with a layup in transition just after the 18-minute mark to make the score 37-27, and a three-point play by junior forward Marshae Dotson kept UF in front by 10, 40-30, just after the first media timeout of the frame. A pair of driving layups by Mossor pushed Florida’s lead to 44-30 with 13:37 left on the clock, forcing FGCU to burn another timeout with the Gators in the midst of another 7-0 run.

The Eagles came roaring out of the stoppage with seven straight points to cut the deficit in half at the next media timeout, but Dotson rattled home a jumper in the paint to stop the FGCU streak and extend the lead back to nine, 46-37, with just over nine minutes left in regulation.

A put-back layup by Brooks gave UF a 48-38 advantage at the eight-minute mark of the second half, but Florida Gulf Coast stormed back to pull within a pair 52-50 with just under four minutes left to play. Mossor helped the Gators maintain a two-possession lead at the final media timeout after she swiped the ball from an Eagles ballhandler at midcourt and charged down the lane for a heavily-contested layup to make the score 54-50.

FGCU came within a point at 54-53 before sophomore forward Sharielle Smith converted a second-chance layup for a 56-53 lead with less than two minutes to play. Bowden drained a baseline jumper on Florida’s next possession to stretch the margin to 58-53, but FGCU countered with a bucket to decrease the gap to three, 58-55, with under a minute on the clock.

UF came back down the floor and misfired on a three-point attempt, but Dotson snared the offensive board and the Eagles were forced to surrender three-straight fouls to put Brooks on the free throw line, where she calmly sank a pair to put UF in front by the final margin of 60-55.

Senior forward Delia De La Torre scored a game-high 24 points and pulled down nine rebounds to lead Florida Gulf Coast in both categories, while senior guard Chelsea Dermyer chipped in with 10 points and six rebounds in 40 minutes.

Post-Game Notes: Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast, Women’s NIT Second Round, March 24, 2008

*Tonight was the 550th win all-time for the Florida women’s basketball program.

*Florida holds a 10-3 record this season in games decided by six points or less.

*Amanda Butler is the first coach in program history to guide the team to a post-season appearance in her first season.

*Butler has improved Florida’s record by 10 wins over last season, tied for the best turnaround by the 48 teams in the country with first-year head coaches.

*Tonight was Florida’s 19th win this season. That ties for the most wins by a first-year head coach in school history. Debbie Yow also recorded 19 wins (19-9) during the 1983-84 season.

*Florida holds a 3-2 record in WNIT play games decided by seven points or less and an 8-4 record in WNIT games overall.

*Florida recorded three blocks tonight for 102 blocks on the season marking the eighth season Florida has recorded 100 or more blocks in a season and the first time since 2003-04.

*Florida has now won 14 home games this season, tying the second-most home wins in Florida history.

*Florida Gulf Coast was the first team in history to make the WNIT in its first season as a Division I athletic program.

*Florida went on two runs of 7-0 or more in the first half. The Gators answered Florida Gulf Coast’s opening 4-0 run with a 7-0 run from 18:28 to 15:59 in the first half. The Gators went on an 11-0 run from 5:01 to 1:03 in the first half.

*Florida ended the first half on an 11-1 run and did not allow the Eagles to make shot from the floor from 5:19 to the end of the half.

*Florida Gulf Coast had two runs of 6-0 or more in the fist half. The Eagles put together a 7-0 run from 14:45 to 13:28 and a 6-0 run from 12:11 to 8:37.

*There were three ties and three lead changes in the first half before Florida took the lead for good at the 4:09 mark on a shot by Sha Brooks.

*Florida Gulf Coast went nine minutes of game time without hitting a shot from the floor from 5:19 left in the first half to the 16:19 mark in the second half.

*The Eagles did not score their first points of the second half until 16:19 remaining.

*The Eagles held Florida scoreless for over four minutes from 13:34 to 9:15 in the second half to cut the Gator lead to seven points.

*The largest lead of the game was a 14-point lead by the Gators on a shot by Jennifer Mossor with 13:34 remaining.

*Florida’s Aneika Henry fouled out with 6:08 remaining in the game after playing just nine minutes.

*Florida Gulf Coast’s Ashley Haegele fouled out with 0:16.7 remaining in the game.