The High Point Panthers bombed in 11 three-pointers Monday evening to hand the Florida women’s basketball team a 75-68 loss in the championship game of the Gator Holiday Classic in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The Gators rallied from 12 points down in the second half to take a one-point lead with 4:51 left in the game but they never could take control of the game and faltered down the stretch.
“High Point played fantastic and they really set the tone tonight,” Florida head coach Amanda Butler said. “They were really ready to close out this semester of games on a high note. They fought, outplayed and outworked us in every regard tonight.”
The loss dropped the Gators to 5-6 on the season. They’re off for Christmas and don’t return to action until December 28 when they play host to Ohio University in the first half of a doubleheader with the Florida men’s team at the O’Connell Center.
Senior forward Sharielle Smith led the Gators (5-6) with an 11-point, 11-rebound effort, the fifth double-double of her career and the second of this season.
The Gators trailed High Point 56-46 with 11:45 remaining but they used a 9-0 run to get back to a one-point deficit when freshman Jennifer George scored on a layup with 6:48 left in the game. After trading baskets, a George hoop at the 4:51 mark gave the Gators their first lead of the second half at 59-58.
High Point then ran off six consecutive points to go up 64-59 before a Jennifer Mossor basket with 2:06 left brought Florida to within three, 64-61. Smith missed a three-pointer from the left corner and then fouled attempting to grab the offensive rebound. The Panthers’ Lateisha Dean then canned a three-pointer from the other end to stretch the High Point lead to 67-61.
Florida shot 42.4 percent (28-66) from the floor in the game, but connected on just 5-25 on three-pointers. The Panthers, who shot 46.2 percent (24-52), thrived from long range, making 11-18 on three-pointers. High Point also capitalized on 16-19 from the free throw line.
Sophomore guard Trumae Lucas charted a season-high 10 points, while George added nine. Sophomore center Azania Stewart tallied eight points.
Senior guard Lonnika Thompson posted a season-high four steals, while senior guard Steffi Sorensen had six points and seven rebounds.
Florida used a dominant post presence to help its cause in the game, out-rebounding the Panthers 39-33 and out-scoring them 40-18 in points in the paint.
High Point took a 35-31 advantage into the locker room at intermission after shooting 50.0 percent (12-24) from the field. The Gators connected on 48.3 percent (14-29) of their shots. The teams were nearly even statistically at intermission, but the Panthers’ long-range shooting proved to be the difference as they had seven three-pointers at halftime.
After a three-pointer by Sorensen opened the game, High Point took an early
7-3 advantage at the 17:14 mark. The Panthers widened their edge out to 9-5 before back-to-back baskets by Ndidi Madu who finished with seven points, knotted the score at 9-all with 14:10 remaining in the period. A Madu free-throw put the Gators back in front at 10-9 before the teams traded three-pointers.
The two teams swapped leads until a three-pointer by the Panthers’ Jurica at the
7:11 mark. That was the beginning of a long-range shooting barrage by the Panthers that allowed them to take a 28-21 advantage with 5:25 remaining. Back-to-back baskets by Smith and Lucas allowed Florida to whittle its deficit down to three, 28-25, with 4:11 left in the period. The two squads traded hoops the remainder of the half.
Florida and High Point swapped baskets to begin a high scoring start to the second half, but several early three-point baskets coupled with efficient transition offense allowed the Panthers to widen their lead to 12, 49-37, with 17:05 left in the game. Back-to-back baskets by Lucas and George brought the Gators as close as eight, 49-41, at the 15:42 mark of the second half.
That sparked a 9-2 run that was capped off by a three-pointer from senior
guard Jennifer Mossor at the 13:56 mark that trimmed the Gators’ deficit down to five, 51-46. High Point responded with five consecutive points to go up 56-46 before Florida began making its late-game comeback.
High Point (5-6), a member of the Big South Conference, placed three players in double-figure scoring, led by Dean’s game-high 17 points.
“The team dug in and, even as Florida rallied back in the second half, we never had a let down,” High Point head coach Tooey Loy said. “We played a really great Florida team tonight and this is just an amazing win for our team.”
FLORIDA HEAD COACH AMANDA BUTLER
On whether or not free-throw shooting was the difference in the game …
“I think there were a couple of difference and free throws were definitely one of them. We had opportunities, but we didn’t step up and knock them down. It was an outstanding shooting night for them [High Point]. That’s not something that they’ve been doing but, at the same time, we have to be able to adjust to that. We’re not quite sure why we couldn’t make those adjustments within the game. It did come down a lot to effort and how badly High Point wanted to win. It just came through on the defensive end and the offensive end, they weren’t going to be denied.”
On if Florida couldn’t finish because it had expended all its energy
in the comeback …
“I don’t think we used up all we had; we still have some. It’s a matter of figuring out why that’s the case. I think we may have had a different result if we had used up everything we had.”
On Florida out-scoring High Point 40-18 in points in the paint …
“We did do a good job of getting the ball inside and seemed to capitalize there more often than not. We out-rebounded them [39-33], but we had to because we were missing a lot of opportunities. Aside from the few glimmers, High Point out-played us in every regard.”